become a great leader, follow the leader

How To Become a Great Leader in 12 Steps

Lots of people are “thrown” into leadership positions. They may have impressed their boss in some and way earned the  reward of leading a team  as a supervisor or manager.  That is all fine and dandy, but there is  one problem – many of them have never had a leadership position before and they will inevitability fail. Yes, there are some who naturally adjust to  leadership roles,  but they are a minority. So if you have just been promoted to supervisor, take a deep breath! Before you panic or make some big mistake, here is a short “down and dirty” course in leadership with steps you can take right now.

12 Rules to Gain Respect and Become a Great Leader

Remember This:

There are a lot of very poor leaders who have had all the necessary education and training to prepare them. Leadership is about attitude and action, not about formal training. You are going to have the right attitude and take the right actions.

Become a servant to your team members:

In the 1960’s a man by the name of Robert Greenleaf came up with the term “servant leadership.” It didn’t catch on right away, because those “in the know” were still arguing about such things as “authoritarian, democratic, and situational” leadership styles. The idea of being a “servant” to one’s subordinates just didn’t sit right with people who did not really understand what Greenleaf meant.

The idea of servant leadership is to ask your team – each individual on that team – what it is they need to get the job done. And then you listen and do everything in your power to find them the resources they need. If you do this often enough, then they will learn that they can speak up and tell you what they need without you having to ask them. A great amount of leadership success comes from listening and taking action on what you hear.

Dress to Influence Not Intimidate:

If your workplace is career casual, why would you want to all of a sudden don a sport coat and tie? Now, you are definitely separating yourself from your team. Get a new pair of shoes, buy some nicer casual pants and shirts. Model for your team, while looking professional and well-groomed.

Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep:

There is sometimes a tendency on the part of newly-appointed leaders to meet with their teams and make a big deal of telling them how things are going to be different from now on, how their jobs are going to be made easier, etc. If you cannot then follow through and make those promises happen, you will lose. Your subordinates will see you as ineffective, unable to get things done, and even worse, as a liar. Make no promises you can’t keep. Be honest. Explain that you will listen to what they need and you will work to get that, but do not guarantee anything unless you have the power to make it happen.

Meet Regularly If Only During Lunch:

Once a week, you bring in lunch. Make it a ritual. Everyone knows the day and the time. It will be your opportunity to do a lot of important things:

  • Publicly recognize those individuals who have accomplished something important. (More on this praise thing later).
  • Ask what you can do to help them
  • Listen to concerns and issues
  • Map out plans for how projects are going to be accomplished and ask for input and suggestions before you assign tasks
  • Make sure that all of your team members understand the organization’s goals and any changes that are occurring higher up. When employees feel that they are a part of the bigger picture, they are much more willing to “buy in” to what needs to be done.

Treat Your Employees As If  They Were Customers:

You have to model appropriate treatment of one another. This means you need to be courteous, friendly, professional and ready to solve problems or issues. It means you don’t lose your temper, talk down to people or sulk when you are unhappy with upper management.

Be The Cheerleader:

Every department has periods of overload and stress. The worst thing you can do is buy into that stress or discouragement and project pessimism to your team. No one needs a “pity party” at work. You have to be the one who projects optimism and faith in your team members. If a project requires late hours, then you are there. You may be the one running to the copy machine; you may be the one ordering takeout. It speaks volumes to your employees when you share their pain. Nothing is worse than leaving some of your team working and leaving for the day to go enjoy an evening with your family while they continue to toil.

Craft Your Resume:

As you assume your new leadership role and in the months that follow, develop a new perfect resume that outlines the accomplishments that you are achieving as a leader. You may have no intention of leaving your current position, but getting your accomplishments down on paper will make you more confident. And if and when the time comes to make a move, you have the “meat” for you resume development.

Be a Decision-Maker:

You have been put in a leadership role because those above you trust that you can make decisions that will get things done. You can ask for all of the input you want from your team, but at some point the discussion has to stop and you have to make a decision. Announce your decision and provide the reasons for it. While some on your team may not agree with you, they will respect you nonetheless. No one respects a “wishy-washy” leader who cannot come to a decision so that everyone can move on.

Get to Know Your Team Members Individually:

Do you know if one of your team members is taking care of a sick parent? Do you know when someone is going through a divorce? Or struggling with a tough teenager? If you don’t, then you have not assumed one very important role as a leader. It is your responsibility to know these things, and if you have the right relationship with your subordinates, they will feel comfortable telling you about an issue. It then becomes your job to be sensitive to their needs. If an employee needs to leave and meet with his/her child’s school administrators; if an employee comes in late because of a parent’s health issues; if an employee needs time off during the day to meet with an attorney, you are understanding and supportive.

Empty Praise Means Nothing:

Some new leaders think that they need to find any little thing possible to praise a subordinate. Don’t fall into this trap. We don’t reward people for showing up to work and doing the minimum that is required. We reward people who take initiative, who go the extra mile or who come up with a unique solution to a problem. Praise is really important and it should be given publicly, but it has to mean something. Be liberal with your praise for a job well done, but if you provide praise and rewards for commonly expected behavior, all of your praise becomes meaningless.

Model Professional Growth:

Whether you take a course at night or find a great book that will help you grow, your team must know that you think professional growth is important. Here’s a novel idea that one small company leader implemented. He found a book every month that he wanted to read. He also wanted his employees to read it. He gave them some time during the workday to read that book and gave them a month to finish it. Each employee who finished the book and participated in a discussion of the book during a meeting held after work was paid $50.

Don’t Wait For Feedback, Ask For It:

Meet individually with your subordinates and ask them for feedback on your performance. What do they think you could do better? If you have a good relationship, they will feel comfortable doing this. If you are not quite there on the relationship thing, then ask your subordinates to submit their feedback anonymously. One of the most effective school principals in the business did this every year. After he had finished the performance reviews of all of his teaching staff, he held a meeting and asked them to provide their feedback on his performance by asking some very specific questions on a form he passed out. Teachers were allowed to do this anonymously by writing their feedback down and placing it in an envelope that the principal read later.

Here  is your short course in leadership. You may not have that MBA; you may be new to this whole leadership thing. But these 12 things will put you on a path to great leadership. Which of them will you start with?

Photo credit: Vinoth Chandar via flickr

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