Thankfully, I learned valuable lessons from their mistakes as well as my own. I discovered that leadership is a skill as much as an inborn talent, and can be practiced like anything else.
Here are 9 suggestions for upping your leadership game, starting today:
1. Be vulnerable and authentic.
We've all heard the cliche: "It's lonely at the top." It doesn't have to be. Be yourself with your employees. Admit when you don't know something. Ask for feedback and advice, and act on what you're told.
You won't lose face by doing so--you'll gain trust and respect. Your energy and confidence will increase as you cease playing the fearless leader and become comfortable in your own skin.
2. Make your mistakes visible to your team.
If you goof up, own it. It doesn't matter what kind of goof--whether you overruled a good idea with a bad one, or hurt someone's feelings with an unkind remark, acknowledge it.
Spell out what you did wrong and how you plan on avoiding a repeat. Do exactly what you'd expect an employee to do in the same situation.
3. Proactively apologize.
When you do make mistakes, say that you're sorry. Don't put it off, and err on the side of whomever you're apologizing to.
They're a person, so personalize it. Don't be content to toss off an email. They'll remember the gesture for a long time to come.
4. Recognize team members who don't seek recognition.
Some employees call attention to their achievements, while others are content to simply pull on their work boots and shine without any fanfare. Keep a close eye out for the latter, and praise the hell out of them.
Ask your managers to do the same. These people deserve recognition, even if their personalities don't demand it.
5. Recruit based on values versus experience.
Resumes fall far short of telling you the essentials when it comes to new hires. Don't be so dazzled by a bullet list of successes that you fail to spot an unsuccessful cultural fit.
Your company values should be a key component of your interview process. If you and your interviewee see eye-to-eye philosophically, there's a good chance they'll work out well in spite of a shorter resume.
6. Actively seek ways to see yourself as others see you.
One of the most painful experiences of my life arrived in the form of a 360 feedback survey. These are the surveys that allow your entire company to anonymously tell you--in great detail--what they think of your performance as a boss.
I got slaughtered. I was 25 at the time, and the disconnect between how I perceived myself and how others perceived me was shocking.
It woke me up. It kick-started a quest to learn how to lovingly lead human beings. A gap between your view of you and someone else's is inevitable, but close it as much as you can.
7. Create an environment where dissent is okay.
There's nothing more stifling to innovation, high spirits, productivity, etc., than a culture that outlaws reasonable dissent. There's nothing more invigorating than a culture that encourages it.
That encouragement has to start with you. Surround yourself with people unafraid to disagree with you. If you sense that someone is holding something back, don't rest until they've shared it.
8. Be strictly honest with prospective hires.
Let's say I'm interviewing an impressive candidate for an executive position. Noticing that everyone at my company works out in the open, he asks if it's possible that he'll eventually get his own office.
A devil on my shoulder might whisper, "Just tell him yes, eventually--even though the answer is no, never. He'll forgive you soon enough."
A leader's only choice in that moment is to flick the little dude and his pitchfork into space and be truthful. If it's a deal breaker, it means my candidate wasn't right for the job.
9. Make yourself available.
I work out in the open with everyone else, and this projects an air of availability. But I have to to do more than project--I have to really be available.
Let your employees know that you're there for them. If someone needs to talk--whether it's work-related or no--set up a meeting. Be a friend and mentor as well as a boss. It'll hugely enrich both your private life and career.