It all seems so simple at the beginning. When you first opened your doors for business, most likely it was just you. You, your home office, your favorite plant. Maybe a sleeping dog at your feet.
But, if you were lucky, you soon began to make some real money. You began to grow. You began to need help to deal with all the orders, customers, success! So you start hiring people and put them to work.
Trouble is– you may have never managed anyone before. You definitely have never been the leader and head of an entire company. But it’s something you have to get good at.
It’s so important to get that right! Great leaders make for happy employees, which in turn creates a strong, profitable culture.
So what do you do if you’ve never been a leader before?
Don’t feel bad. Few people are born with that natural ability. It’s something we all must learn and even the best leaders constantly work at it. Here are a few simple ways to hone your leadership skills.
#1 Keep Emotions In Mind
This seems counter intuitive. Shouldn’t business and personal stuff/emotions be kept far, far apart? Well, yes, they should be. In a perfect world, emotions would never come into play in the workplace.
But unless you have staffed your company with robots, emotions have to be a consideration. They just do. Humans run businesses and humans are a very emotional species.
So be sure to be plugged into the emotional aspects of your workplace. If a normally- exceptional staffer is going through a difficult time personally, try not to be extra critical or to overload them with work.
Find a way to help them through it without letting the work suffer.
If you sense jealousy or competition between two co-workers, don’t turn a blind eye and just hope it will go away. Brainstorm ways to diffuse the tension so that everyone is happier and so work chugs along more smoothly.
This isn’t to say that you should act in an overly emotional way.
Nor should you make any decisions based on emotions. Just be aware of them and factor them in when you are leading your team. Ignoring their existence won’t make them go away and might make the situation worse!
#2 Communication is Everything
The best leaders are also usually world-class listeners. Hearing your staff out and really trying to understand them will do more to make them feel warm and fuzzy.
It will have a nice side benefit of improving your company! By listening – really listening – to your employees you will make them feel heard, while possibly finding some great new ways to improve your company.
And remember that communication, as they always say, is a two way street! Communication is also about making yourself abundantly clear, too.
As owners we often have an ongoing dialogue in our head about what needs to happen and when. Sometimes what seems obvious to us may not really be obvious to your staff.
So before you fly off the handle over something that wasn’t done to your preferred specifications, stop and think. Are you sure you clearly communicated your wishes?
Good leaders know how to communicate and ensure that they are being heard…before the miscommunications happen.
#3 Meet Well
One of the quickest ways to kill your team’s spirit is to have endless, pointless, meandering meetings. Respect your staff’s time (and your own!) by keeping meetings brief and purposeful.
Write an agenda, print it out and circulate it. Ideally before the meeting happens so folks are both prepared and so they have time to digest the topics and add meaningful insights during the meeting.
There’s even a school of thought that meetings should only be about ONE thing, whenever possible. So don’t try to cram a million things into one hour. That’s a surefire way to turn that meeting into two chatty, unstructured hours.
Instead, call a 20-minute meeting about one urgent matter and then save the ‘catch all’ stuff for regular weekly or bi-weekly get togethers.
Everyone will be much more productive and get more done if they’re not stuck in meetings all day. As I always love to say: talking about work isn’t the same thing as working.
#4 Back It Up
Monkey see, monkey does do! In other words, lead by example. If you want your staff to show up to work on time, you must do the same. Being in power is no excuse for tardiness.
Same goes for meetings. I’ve always been amazed by leaders who regularly keep a room full of employees waiting 15 minutes or even 30 minutes.
Do they think that makes them look important and busy? It makes them look rude and it erodes employee respect. Don’t do it.
Modeling good behavior is smart on every level. If you don’t like employees gossiping about each other, or heaven forbid gossiping about you, then don’t engage in it yourself.
Even to your most trusted staff. Word will get out, believe me.
#5 History Lesson
If you’ve been in business even six months, you’ll have made mistakes and suffered the consequences. Are you learning from them or are you chalking them up to one-off blunders?
Take time to regularly analyze any big problems you have had and do a ‘post-mortem.’ Better still, involve your staff in the analysis and ask for their opinions. They’ll respect you all the more.
#6 Know Thyself
Every leader, even great ones, have breaking points. Pet peeves. Irrational dislikes of certain things. Make sure you have a good grasp of what your breaking points are and communicate them to your team.
I’ll give you an example. I once had a boss who, on stressful deadline days, was very particular about his food. He wanted certain snack items and lunch food available every single time. No questions asked.
If he didn’t have his lunch on time (after he’d pull an all-nighter) heads would roll. Proverbially. After this happened two or three times, his assistant and the whole team realized it was a pattern and we did everything we could to ensure it didn’t happen again. It never did.
The odd part was that later, during more relaxed moments, we teased him about his food-related tantrums. And he completely denied them! We were stunned.
How could he be so blind to his own idiosyncrasies? We all thought he was incredibly smart and driven but him not ‘owning’ his particular habits made us trust him less. And probably respect him a little less as well!
Remember that tip earlier about businesses being fueled by humans? Well, like it or not, you are one too. And your staff knows you are. They probably know you better than you think.
So if you have anything you feel extremely strong about (dress code, office conduct, tardiness, phone etiquette) let your staff know that this is A Thing for you. You know it “might not seem important to you but it is to me.”
By giving them the heads up beforehand, you can help them from inadvertently stepping on any land mines!
#7 Mentor Up
The best leaders aren’t just self aware, humble communicators. They also never stop improving on themselves. They seek out and take the advice of mentors.
They know that as powerful as they may be in their own company, there is always someone who has been around the block just a little bit more and has seen a greater spectrum of experience.
Find a mentor. There are many places you can find someone who is even tangentially involved in your industry who can provide friendship and guidance.
Bouncing your leadership ideas and frustrations off of someone who’s “been there” is a fantastic way to hone those same skills.
What about you? Are you a confident or reluctant leader? What do you think you do well? What could you improve upon? Share your leadership thoughts in the comments below!
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