There’s a reason thousands of books on leadership have been written: being a leader is a tough job, and there are dozens of schools of thought about what style of leadership works best in what situation. Following these ten tips, however, can help you stay on top of the game no matter your leadership style. (As a bonus, they are also valuable life tips for being a good friend and parent.)
1. Lead by example.
If you want others to be on time, be on time—or early—yourself; dress how you’d like your employees to dress; don’t ask others to do something you’re not willing to do yourself. Essentially, walk your talk. Saying one thing and then doing another erodes trust and damages relationships. It also engenders a feeling of anger and hostility in those your work with. Don’t, for example, generously tell employees work should end at 5 p.m. and then stay late working yourself every night. Because you’re the leader, others will follow your cue and are likely to start feeling guilty and staying late as well—resenting every minute they do.
2. Be emotionally smart.
There are two sides to this tip: 1) don’t let your emotions get the best of you in heated or tense situations, and 2) remember that your employees may manifest emotions for reasons that aren’t immediately clear. Practice being culturally sensitive and allow room for different points of view and backgrounds. Emotionally intelligent bosses, parents, and friends don’t make off-the-cuff, insensitive comments, such as, “If you were only a little more competent/mature/smart, you wouldn’t have failed to meet this goal.”
Research has shown that your emotional quotient (EQ) is as important, if not more important, as your intelligence quotient. Dr. Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, explains that “The link between EQ and earnings is so direct that every point increase in EQ adds $1,300 to an annual salary.”
Delegation increases company-wide efficiency and personal skill development in those you lead. Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom about Management, believes delegation is critical: “Your most important task as a leader,” he says, “is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off.”
Pfeffer says to be alert to biases that could be preventing you from delegating, such as 1) believing that it’s easier to just do everything yourself, 2) believing that your work is better than others, or 3) thinking that letting someone else do it will detract from your importance. Actively evaluate your assumptions to avoid these three biases.
The Harvard Business Review suggests that leaders
- Take note if you’re overwhelmed and your team members don’t seem to have enough to do—it’s a warning sign
- Keep a visual reminder of your team’s development goals so you can easily identify opportunities to delegate
- Ask your direct reports to call you out when you haven’t delegated enough
- Don’t assume that you aren’t biased about other people’s performance
- Don’t give someone else responsibility for something and then micromanage the task to death
4. Give credit where it’s due.
Once you have learned to delegate, it’s important to recognize the work of those to whom you delegate. This may seem obvious, but in some hierarchical organizations, where credit almost always goes to the one in power, the contribution of others (and sometimes all the work of others) is woefully ignored. This makes employees feel undervalued and fosters resentment. Look carefully at your organization and make sure you aren’t giving all the recognition to those with the most power or seniority.
5. Don’t let it go to your head.
Humility wins both fans and loyal friends. A good leader will never make his employees feel like subordinates. A popular adage exemplifies the importance of humility: “When I talk to a manager, I get the feeling that they are important. When I talk to a leader, I get the feeling that I am important.
Be a leader rather than a manager. Surround yourself with wise advisors you regularly go to for opinions. And don’t make big decisions until after you’ve listened to and considered their opinions on a decision. Following the principles advised in the first tip listed here (Lead by Example) will also help you keep your ego in check and let your employees know that you don’t think of yourself as superior to them.
6. Learn from mistakes.
This tip is particularly timely, as many industries are grappling with ways to change their work environment to one that shuns sexual harassment and treats all workers fairly. Your business may not be in the news for ignoring sexual harassment in the workplace, but you can certainly learn from the mistakes of other businesses. Regularly re-evaluate policies that pertain to how employees are treated. Make preemptive moves to ensure that mistakes other businesses make don’t happen under your leadership. If you do make a mistake, don’t repeat it.
7. Admit when you’re wrong.
Although this tip could be part of the previous tip, it is important enough that it deserves its own space. Do not blame others for mistakes or cover them up. Instead, admit when you’ve made a mistake. Sometimes this will involve an apology. Almost always it will involve doing something differently, feeling a little vulnerable, and having to put your faith in others as you correct a mistake. Admitting mistakes and apologizing for them does not make you look weak or insecure; it makes you responsible and mature.
Glenn Llopis, speaker, author, and advisor to a number of Fortune 500 companies, says: “When leaders admit to making mistakes—creating an opportunity to earn respect, strengthen their teams and lead by example—it ultimately builds a culture of trust. A workplace culture that promotes trust allows employees to live with an entrepreneurial attitude, which stimulates innovation and initiative.”
8. Don’t waste time.
Meetings can be both time wasters and valuable opportunities to generate consensus, collaborate, or advance projects. Make sure your meetings are the latter. Meetings that exist simply to report data can be nixed and replaced with an email covering the same details. Status meetings can also be dropped in favor of electronic reporting on the details and status of a particular project.
Take some time to evaluate exactly why you’re having a meeting and consider whether or not your employees’ time would be better spent doing actual work or participating in a meeting. When you do have meetings, follow an agenda and guide the discussion. Don’t, however, streamline things so much that you deny your employees the chance to provide valuable input.
9. Keep improving/learning.
Technology and society change and evolve at a rapid pace. As a leader, you must be aware of these changes and commit to learning and growing so you—or your business—don’t get left behind. Author Gerard Seijts spent a year interviewing more than 30 leaders at various stages of their career to identify what makes a good leader—are they born that way or do they become that way? If it’s the latter, what hastens that development? The most important thing he discovered from his work is that “good leaders are really the product of a never-ending process of skill and character development.”
Continued learning and improvement comes from being willing to adapt to changes, stretching beyond your own comfort zone, taking risks, learning from mistakes, and frequently assessing your strengths and weakness.
10. Invest in people.
Don’t think of people as assets. Treat them as human beings. Don’t get caught in the trap of believing that “numbers” or “data” get your business to the top; remember, instead, that there is a person behind those numbers and that data.
Bonus Essential Oils Tip
Every leader can use a confidence booster now and then. Positive affirmations can do just that. I like to apply a blend of 3 drops frankincense, 2 drops bergamot, 2 drops myrrh, and 2 drops geranium to my forehead, the back of my neck, and around my ears. Then I repeat this affirmation: “I receive inspiration and divine guidance daily. I complete my projects and goals with confidence and creativity. I guide others with love and acceptance.”