Leadership isn’t a magical gift but instead, it’s a set of skills you can work on and practice. I am naturally optimistic; pom poms are always in my hands seeking opportunities to cheer people on. A good attitude is a great quality in a leader, but if that’s all you have, you can fall short.
Leadership may come more easily to some than to others, but it’s within reach for all of us. You must want it, be willing to learn and practice new skills and modalities.
Before I joined Sospes, I was the Founder and CEO of a non-profit organization. I ran the organization for eight years, leading a staff of six employees, 22 board members and nearly 50 volunteers. Here are four keys to what I found makes a great leader, gleaned from what I learned during those years. This knowledge was acquired by being teachable, observing others, and more profoundly, learning from my mistakes, pivoting, and trying again.
Vulnerability and Openness:
As more generations enter the workforce with different expectations and values, the entire paradigm of leadership has been turned on its head. Today’s leaders are better suited to be understanding and vulnerable. This often results in stronger relationships with their teams, enhanced productivity, and healthier company culture.
At times I felt the pressure that I always had to be right because I was the leader. That was a pressure I put on myself, and my ego wasn’t helping the problem.
Leaders are not required to know everything. Leaders are human, as are the teams that work with them. By showing vulnerability, you’ll truly connect with your teams because you’ll be authentic, open, and transparent. Vulnerability will motivate teams and keep the door open for constructive communication. Your team will not only be willing to bring up their issues but also provide their ideas to address those issues, which makes every aspect of the business better.
Understand Who You are Working With:
After two years of leading my team, I attended a weekend leadership retreat hoping to gain skills in managing the organization’s Board of Directors. We had built a well-rounded and forward-thinking group of people. However, I didn’t know how to leverage their skills to move us to the next level.
That weekend I learned the DISC profile self-assessment. I realized I couldn’t communicate my big ideas with passion and flair to the accounting team in the same way I presented them to the events team. The accounting team wanted concise data. They weren’t as interested in a passionate story about how my idea would change lives.
Years later my team participated in Myers Briggs testing. I learned who needs praise, who excels with collaboration and who works best alone. We talked about how each person processes information and what they need to feel valued. It opened my eyes to a deeper understanding of myself and, more importantly, an appreciation for how different we all are from each other.
People are more engaged when they are understood. Effective team building is based on understanding the people in the room and equipping them to be able to work more cohesively together.
Hold People Accountable:
Contrary to what many companies think, employees want to be held accountable for their work. Accountability equates to responsibility, and responsibility leads to several intrinsic motivators such as focus, purpose, and accomplishment. In other words, holding your employees accountable is crucial to keeping them engaged; and an engaged employee wants to stay employed by you.
Holding a person and a team accountable gives everyone an opportunity to celebrate successes and creates space for communication and pivoting along the way if a goal is not on course to be met.
Many people think holding someone accountable is “catching” them doing something wrong, ratting out coworkers, or laying down a strict set of rules administered with a punitive approach. There is another way to think about it. Accountability builds trust and improves performance, and it should be delivered to the team through a positive lens.
No More Micromanaging:
This one was hard for me. It took me until about year four to realize that micromanaging was not benefiting anyone.
Team members were selected because they were top-notch. So I should have let them do their jobs. I remember looking around the room when this thought suddenly hit me over the head: They so badly want to be a participating force in the change and growth of this organization. We were doing forward-thinking programs, and it excited them. In that instant, I knew they would leave if they weren’t given the freedom to explore their ideas and pursue them. Autonomy elicits trust and gives the team pride and value.
It was hard on my ego at first, but I delegated. I let members of the team completely take over parts of the organization while giving periodic updates. I’ll never forget the time that I simply showed up to one of our large events. I was so proud of the team and proud of myself. The organization continued to flourish in ways I could have never imagined because we were truly a cohesive collaborating team.
Whether becoming a leader is something you sought out or the role found you, you’re there. It’s a position carrying significant responsibility within your team. I learned it was up to me to create an environment of open communication, to provide freedom for my team to explore and develop their skills and to ensure they know they are valued. Company culture is built from the top up making foundational leadership skills pivotal. It’s important to take that responsibility seriously and commit to continuously looking to improve and grow in your leadership.