Some people are born strong leaders and spend much of their careers becoming more conscious of what they already do inherently. For others, leadership is something that has to be acquired, learned, and practiced. I think of it as public speaking: Some people are naturals, and others become more and more natural over time.

Especially when you are a startup founder, mastering the art of leadership is a crucial aspect of building a successful business.

When my team and I started ThirdLove, the way we thought about leadership in the context of the company was very different from the ways we consciously thought about instilling or building leadership as we grew. The bigger the company got, the more people we hired, the more we as a team needed to think about what leadership meant to us--on an executive level, on a managerial level, and even for brand-new employees who wanted to feel ownership over their work.

One of the biggest lessons I've learned over the years is how much leadership doesn't happen in a vacuum. It's not something you work on by yourself. It's a co-construction. It's a collaboration between you and the people around you. And how effective you are as a leader comes down to how you create an environment that fosters healthy, productive, and effective learnings over time--for everyone involved.

That said, here are four actionable ways to foster an inclusive, creative environment in your own business, and become a better leader yourself: 

1. Establish an environment that builds your internal community.

At the end of the day, you set the tone.

To have a high-functioning team, you have to teach others around you how you expect the environment to operate through how you, yourself, lead by example. The way you welcome new information and encourage people to share ideas, and the way you actively listen and engage (even down to the small courtesies) nurtures high-achieving talent in healthy, positive ways. 

This creates a culture that allows others to follow their own innate curiosities and become leaders themselves as a result.

2. Champion your team's career development.

As a leader, you succeed when others succeed. The best thing you can do here is to create road maps for your team--collectively and individually. 

For each individual teammate, you need to have answers to these questions: 

  • Who are they?

  • Where do they want to go?

  • What do they want to learn?

In addition, you need to have open and honest conversations with them to get a clear sense of how they're currently feeling and whether they are informed about what needs to happen for them to move forward. And the more clarity you provide, the less likely you will run into career-path issues down the road.

3. Be a courageous change agent.

Your mindset as a leader should be one of a "courageous enabler." 

You are someone who takes charge and embraces the role of being a change agent in support of constructive disruption, ultimately making the environment and those around you operate better and more effectively. 

You challenge each team member to think critically and push them to constantly learn, improve, and do the hard work. And you encourage everyone to view their work through a lens of continuous improvement. Your goal is to always accelerate, not inhibit, productive change.

4. Unite your team behind common goals.

As the leader, you give your team direction.

To do this, you need to connect the day-to-day work to a larger, shared purpose for everyone within your organization. Everyone needs to feel like a valuable, participating asset sharing in the success of some broader goal. And then, once you define what that North Star is, you need to ruthlessly prioritize reinforcing that shared vision in everyday moments. 

If you notice, much of effective leadership comes down to communication. And so, you must acknowledge that, like public speaking, leadership is a skill. And the more deliberately and intentionally you practice that skill on a daily basis, the more likely you are to create an inclusive, creative, highly successful environment where everyone thrives.