You’ve no doubt heard the old adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely. While this can be an instructive warning, your success as a business leader is not doomed to collapse in on itself, and you don’t have to turn into a malevolent dictator as your company grows. Effective and sustainable leadership is a very tricky thing to get right, but it can certainly be achieved with a little vigilance.
It is easy to get so caught up in the daily hustle and bustle of leading your business that you forget to take stock of the leadership qualities that landed you in your position in the first place. An important part of remaining effective as your business grows is to actively cultivate these leadership qualities and leverage them to continue being effective. The following are generally recognized as the most important leadership qualities.
Honesty And Consistency
Don’t roll your eyes. In the reputation-centric world of modern business, there can be no more important metric of your company’s viability than its perceived trustworthiness. This applies generally to your conduct in life and specifically to the brand you project. Remember that your company’s brand is an extension of your own personal brand, and the two must be compatible. If you haven’t done so, you should create a list of core values and principles and outline the specific ways you adhere to them as a leader. These values should be applied to your organization as a whole, and your employees should be held accountable to them. By clearly delineating your intentions and expected conduct, you will encourage a culture that truly represents these values. Your employees will respond to the clarity of purpose and expectations, and your customers will be comforted by the consistency and reliability this projects.
This dovetails with Honesty and Consistency. Too often I hear employees badmouthing their superiors over a problem that could have been squashed by clearer communication. As far as modern science can tell, nobody’s psychic, and while your expectations are obvious to you, it’s important to make absolutely sure that you are understood. Intuition is an important skill to develop in any vocation, but your employees should never have to use it to interpret what their job description entails. This leads to unnecessary fretting in front of a computer screen and a massive loss of productivity, time wasted on unnecessary projects and a general feeling of resentment and uncertainty.
Delegation and Trust
Many of the most successful leaders are obsessive over the details of their visions. We wouldn’t have the Apples and Facebooks of the world without the preternatural obsessions of their CEOs. However, to be successful, learning to delegate key tasks and trust your team to carry them out is essential. This can be a painful transition as your company grows and things that you used to do yourself need to be handed off to other employees.
To do this effectively you need to be able to isolate the strengths and weaknesses of the workers on your team and find the projects which make good fits. This requires a degree of empathy, and seeing through the eyes of others. Most importantly it requires trust. Taking an attitude of “if you want something done right you have to do it yourself” is a guaranteed way of keeping your company small. A growing business thrives on delegation and trust.
Confidence and Commitment
This can be one of the hardest qualities to keep up on a day to day basis. The exigencies of running a business in this shifting economy will test your fortitude, both mental and intestinal. Projecting a pessimistic outlook often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; your employees look to you for guidance and morale and will emulate your attitude. If you seem uncertain about reaching your company’s goal, your employees will lose steam right alongside you. It might sometimes seem like you’re “staying the course” á la Bush in the Middle East, but you need to find a way to trust your over all vision while making necessary adjustments to keep it viable. There is a positive and negative way of viewing any development. Focus on the positive, and highlight the expected benefits of strategic decisions rather than the negative developments you are responding to. Always be the hunter, rather than the hunted.
A good way of showing this commitment is to get involved with the nitty gritty operation of your company. Show your frontline employees that you understand the importance of what they do and aren’t above getting your hands dirty. This can also be a good opportunity to learn first hand about problems that need to be addressed and opportunities for innovation.
Flexibility and Sense of Humor
This is that immeasurable “je ne sais quois” of leadership that can turn a major crisis into a tempest in a teacup. Especially in times of unmitigated failure, a leader who has the ability to step back and allow for a bit of perspective can reduce damage better than anything else. This will reduce the paralytic effects of “Apocalyptic Thinking” that can set in when times are hard. Remember that you’re running a business and not doing heart surgery. Setbacks are natural and to be expected. The sooner you allow for the cathartic experience of a laugh at your mistakes, the sooner you can get back to the work of fixing them.
This also allows you the freedom to look for opportunity in the face of disaster and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Studies have shown that a sense of humor allow for the flourishing of creativity and intuition, which are essential in navigating difficult terrain. This kind of flexibility will help you make the right decision when all options seem negative. Your mind will be free to see a situation objectively, so you can draw on past experience and the advice of others to solve it.
These five tips are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to being a good leader. As you learn to cultivate these qualities, they will become second nature to you and you will learn from your own experience what it is that makes you effective. Just remember that your business is a reflection of yourself, and success requires remaining self-aware.