Some people are born leaders. Unfortunately, most of us aren't.
Leadership is a skill, just like any other. It takes practice in order to acquire, and patience in order to integrate. However, it's also the skill that ends up separating aspiring entrepreneurs from the superstars--because building a successful company is all about leading a team of people to victory. If you don't take the time to learn how to be a leader that inspires, you'll struggle to attract the talent you want and need in order to bring your vision to life.
There's this story about Hall of Fame NFL football coach, Bill Parcells, I think about all the time. He's a New Jersey guy you may have heard of--he won a few Super Bowls for the New York Giants. Before every season, he used to walk around and individually tell his players to "get your expectations up." It didn't matter how good the player was, or how talented that particular team was, he'd preach it to everyone--from the quarterback to the water boy. Why? Because no team can win the Super Bowl unless everybody believes it.
The same goes for becoming a great leader. No one is going to believe in your big idea, or more importantly believe in you, unless you believe it yourself.
So, here are five practices you should integrate sooner than later, that will help you start the process of becoming a memorable and truly influential leader:
1. Don't expect anyone to do anything you wouldn't do yourself.
The worst kind of leader is the one who sits up in his or her ivory tower, barking orders down to the people below them.
No one wants to work for that sort of person.
Something I talk about a lot in my book, All In, and I encourage every founder, C-suite exec, and middle manager to do is make an effort to be seen within the organization. Instead of hiding away in your corner office, spend time interacting with the people who make up the bulk of your organization. After all, they're the ones helping you bring your vision to life.
Furthermore, when something goes wrong, be the first one to jump in and fix it. Work with people individually, and teach by showing rather than telling. If these sound like cumbersome tasks you don't want to do, then that's problem number one. A great leader is willing to pick up a shovel and dig too.
If you want proof, look no further than Elon Musk. Want to know his answer to where his office is? "The department with the most urgent problem."
2. Always communicate the vision of the company.
Great leaders don't sell an idea by walking people through the infinite To Do list it'll take to get there. Instead, they speak on the sum of its parts, and paint a grand vision.
Part of being a leader is knowing when you're slipped into communicating the former, and need to remind people of the latter. Building a business is tough work--for the team paving the way, and for all the people awaiting directions, wondering how they should help you build it. And if you continually remind the people working for you of how hard the journey is going to be, they're going to be tired before the work has even begun.
Always, always communicate the vision of the company. Bring things back to a macro level, and explain to people how their individual efforts contribute to the bigger picture. This will inspire them to take pride in their work--opposed to seeing their efforts as lowly tasks on a much taller totem pole.
3. If it ain't broken, fix it anyway.
The best leaders never settle for "good."
Just because something works, doesn't mean it's perfect. Just because a business is profitable, doesn't mean it has hit its ceiling. Just because your team is happy and content, doesn't mean they're as productive as they could be. And just because you feel good about how things are going, doesn't mean they couldn't be going better.
Something I like to remind young founders is that your business is going to be in a constant state of change. Innovation, market saturation, even the economy can have an impact on the way your business functions--and if you aren't constantly looking for ways to change with the world, best believe the world will leave you behind.
4. It's not a stupid question if you don't know the answer.
This is a universal truth. I believe there's no such thing as a dumb question if you don't know the answer. What's dumb is if you think it's better to pretend like you know the answer.
But as a leader, this truth has a different context. Every time someone within your company asks you a question, that's an opportunity for you to ask yourself, "How come they don't know the answer?" Was this covered in their training materials? If not, can you add it? If so, how can you make it easier to understand, or more apparent?
Questions people have inside your organization are neon signs for you to pay attention to. They're the things that show you what still needs solving for--and great leaders don't ignore them, or get upset at people for asking questions. They see these signs as opportunities for them to improve the business as a whole.
5. Motivate by making sure excellence is recognized.
One of the worst things a leader can do is spend a considerable amount of time scolding employees for sub-par performance, but let excellent work go unrecognized.
Too many leaders forget that what drives the vast majority of employees is the desire to feel good about the work they're doing. If they show up to the office every day, and are constantly being told what they're doing wrong--but never told what they're doing right--then their motivation is going to dwindle rapidly. They're going to get discouraged. They're going to feel confused about what's right and what's wrong. And most of all, they're going to lose respect for you because they're going to feel like you aren't seeing the things they are doing well.
Great leaders don't motivate through rehearsed "rah rah" speeches. They motivate by making sure people feel seen and heard, and giving them credit where credit is due. Now, this isn't to say you shouldn't address poor work with employees or team members. But if the only time you talk to someone is when they do something wrong, then either you've made a bad hire, or you're being a bad leader.