Technically, leaders run the gamut from Genghis Khan to Oprah Winfrey, so leadership can be hard to define.
As entrepreneurs, we're the ones who call the shots, and the right kind of leadership is a major key to success. So how do you weed through all the generic aspects of "leadership" and find the qualities that are truly impactful and effective?
Great leaders don't elevate only themselves to positions of power; they elevate their entire team. Rather than being the ones who step on everyone else to get to the top, true leaders bring their team up the ladder with them. After all, as an entrepreneur and business owner, your business is only as good as the employees who work for you.
So if you want to be the right kind of leader, here's how to do it.
1. Be real.
No matter how many grandiose words you use to try to elevate your team, all you'll do is blow hot air if you don't have something tangible behind them.
Pretty much all entrepreneurs have a vision that they share with their employees. But leaders know the art of turning that vision into something that others can grasp and hold onto.
"Good leaders organize and align people around what the team needs to do," says Marilyn Hewson, president and CEO of Lockheed Martin. "Great leaders motivate and inspire people with why they're doing it. That's purpose. And that's the key to achieving something truly transformational."
I've implemented a weekly "cheerleading" session every Monday for that very reason, by explaining why we're doing what we do, and how we're making an impact. You can make that vision concrete by doing something similar.
2. Be open to everybody.
A frequent phrase used in leadership training is that leaders go first. And, yes, it's true that you're the one who ultimately decides where to steer the company.
However, that doesn't mean your opinion is the only one that matters. The best leaders listen to everybody on the team, no matter where they are on the totem pole.
Successful entrepreneurs need to be able to change directions at the drop of a hat when necessary. Sorry to break it to you, but this type of change won't happen if you source ideas only from yourself or your peers at the top.
So be open to hearing "Is this what we should be doing?" from everyone, and be OK with honestly answering that question. Often, seeing things in a new light opens up new opportunities and happy surprises. And this will lead other employees to see that it's important to be flexible in their thinking and approach to work.
3. Be principled.
Amy Mifflin, CEO of Global Collaborations, got her start in the male-dominated oil and gas industry. To say the least, she felt some pretty intense pressure to adapt to the culture, but she still stuck by her guns. "I was determined from the beginning to be authentic and genuine--ensure that I kept my word on promises I made," she says. And guess what? She's the CEO of that very company today.
When the time comes -- and it will come -- to make a difficult decision, it's important that leaders stay true to their principles. As a woman trying to change the face of finance, I know the importance of standing one's ground all too well.
I wouldn't expect my employees to follow LexION Capital's mission if I deviated from it, and you shouldn't in your business either. If you don't uphold your firm's values, at best employees will leave in droves, and at worst they'll mimic your actions like a little sister while dragging the whole company down in a flaming wreck.
4. Be trusting.
No matter how much you want to help your team, you can't be a leader if you're peering over your employees' computer screens every five seconds.
Former GE CEO and renowned leadership expert Jack Welch said, "If you pick the right people and give them the opportunity to spread their wings and put compensation as a carrier behind it, you almost don't have to manage them."
It can be hard to let go of the leash sometimes, especially if you're trying to help, but inspirational leaders let their employees take measured risks and explore new ideas. Granted, your office might not resemble an Orwellian 1984 scene, but everyone can benefit from you letting loose the reins.
I took this to a new level by allowing everyone to be a leader instead of trying to lead them, and I haven't looked back since. So let your team take control -- even if it's just by a little bit -- the results and relationships you build will amaze you.
5. Be all ears.
Maybe it's because we think of politicians as leaders, but a big misconception is that leadership involves blabbering on until people's ears fall off.
That's why listening can sometimes be the most difficult thing for a leader to learn. However, government studies have shown that active listening supercharges your team's success and your leadership.
Active listening means being attentive with your thoughts and body language, not having your nose buried in an iPhone or thinking about the next meeting. The same study found that the most effective leaders actually actively listened more than they talked. It might take some work, but the results are well worth it.
Leadership is a powerful factor in business success that anyone can pull off with the right effort. For the inspirational leader, it's a blending of teamwork, vision, and passion.
How do your effectively lead and inspire your team? Share your thoughts with me!