To be a great and effective leader, you need to be very clear on your vision, and what actions you need to take to turn your vision into a reality. And, like an organization or a team, to be an effective leader, you need to focus on the few key areas that will have the highest impact on turning your vision and goals into a reality. Although this word is offensive to some, ultimately, we are talking about winning. And, as any good coach will tell you, to win, you need to be willing to learn and then practice what you learn. The more you are willing to learn and the harder you are willing to practice, the more successful you will become at achieving your vision and goals.
Although some people believe leaders are born, after dedicating 25 years to understanding leadership, I am more convinced than ever that strong leadership requires continuously learning, regularly accepting feedback, and consistently practicing what you learn. If someone feels they know all there is to know about leading people, arrogance creeps in. This is bad news because arrogance is usually received as condescending and people are less inclined to follow those whose communication style is perceived as condescending.
Like an athlete in preparation to win the game, leaders need to constantly hone their craft to become more effective. Here are six ways to become even more effective in your leadership approach:
- Find great mentors: Who are the people you know or work with that are followed? The difference between leaders and managers is that leaders may or may not have a title but they always have people who are motivated to willingly follow them. Who are the great leaders who truly care about your success and have the guts to tell you the truth?
- Clarify your leadership vision: If you were to die, what would you hope people would say about you as a leader? I would hope people would say I have a clear vision of a positive future; that I deeply care about and value our staff and our clients; I am grateful and generous; that I believe in people and the significant contribution they make to achieve our vision; that I have a strong desire to achieve our client’s goals and win; and last, that I did all this with a great sense of humor and didn’t take myself too seriously. Clarifying your vision will help you determine what areas you need to improve and what areas will require more practice.
- Be committed: Every coach will tell you that hard work tops talent, anytime that talent doesn’t work hard. Every day, you will be faced with operational tasks that take your time and effort. Operational tasks are easy give you instant gratification as you cross them off your list. Leadership activities almost always take more thought, can be frustrating because people are involved, and often don’t have immediate gratification. Great leaders are committed to staying focused on doing the right thing and accomplishing their leadership vision.
- Build your Emotional Intelligence: Your IQ is all about how intelligent you are. Your Emotional Intelligence is all about opening your mouth, building strong relationships and achieving your goals. In the leadership business, it boils down to this: if we gave your direct reports a choice, would they choose to follow you? A great example of this is when a leader leaves one organization and moves to another; pay attention to how many of his or her direct reports choose to follow. Another great test for emotional intelligence is whether or not your family, friends, boss, peers and direct reports feel comfortable telling you the truth about your leadership and communication style. Collecting informal feedback on a regular basis, participating in a 360 Leadership Development Assessment every 12 to 18 months, and, most importantly of all, taking action on what you learn from the feedback will all be good practice, helping you to improve your leadership.
- Treat people right: Everyone would agree that treating people right is important. What is discussed a lot less is that different people want to be treated differently. Some people need more praise and recognition; others want to produce results by working as a high performing team; still others tackle their daily job by getting stuff done and crossing stuff off their list. If that does not complicate things enough for leaders, some people want you to tell them exactly what you want them to do, and then just leave them alone. Figuring people out, and treating them like they want to be treated, will be a big part of a leader’s success.
- Learn from your mistakes: I recently went to a retirement party for a client. At his party, the client made a strong point about mistakes and leadership when he said, “The best leaders are the best learners.” When you think about the ability to practice and learn, then mistakes aren’t really mistakes. You have only learned a new way that doesn’t work.
Leadership takes practice. Leadership isn’t something you practice once and become a master at. But how much practice does it take to become a great leader? Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, gives us the 10,000 hour rule. Based on Gladwell’s research of people who’ve reached an expert level so profound that others would describe them as great, it takes about 10,000 hours of studying and practicing the art or the task. That would be more than five years worth of full time work, with each hour dedicated to practicing leadership skills. Even the masters never stop practicing.