An essential ingredient in any successful team is trust in leadership.
Despite being perhaps the greatest way to guide a team, leading by example can also be the most difficult.
Setting and maintaining a standard requires keen self-awareness, strict discipline, and a high degree of compassion not easily sustained in the ever-fluid world of business.
Here are 9 simple ways to grow your abilities as a leader.
Great business leaders are great listeners: take the time to communicate with your team and really listen to what they have to say. Remember to explicitly ask for feedback. It can be easy to fall into a habit of only giving orders, but no single person, no matter how smart, has all the answers. Listening to your subordinates not only helps you solve complex problems, but can also validate your workforce, effectively making each individual team member feel as though they’re part of something larger.
2. Take responsibility
Take responsibility for your mistakes and for your team’s, even if you are not directly responsible — as a leader, it’s your job to be held accountable and the buck stops with you. No one is perfect, nor should anyone be expected to be — making mistakes is a necessary part of growing and improving. By acknowledging your failure, you make it clear that it’s acceptable for others to do the same, which can help you avoid dangerous conflicts down the line. Pointing fingers and blaming others doesn’t resolve matters. It simply fuels an atmosphere of resentment and distrust.
3. Resolve conflict
Conflict will inevitably arise — it’s essential to be prepared so you can quickly resolve the issue and move on. Serving as a moderator is an innate part of leadership, and a passive approach to conflict resolution will only hamper your organization’s ability to operate smoothly. Remaining open, thoughtful, and fair should be a top priority.
4. Follow through
If you make a promise or commitment, see it through to the end. If you flake out on your responsibilities, why would people return to you for support, let alone trust you as a leader? Past accomplishments mean little if you are unable to deliver in the present. Develop organizational habits that will make you a reliable and dependable team member, so you can deliver results and not excuses.
Successfully leading a team means being able to successfully collaborate. Ten minds are better than one, but only if those minds are working together. Knowing when to speak and when to listen is critical, as is making sure all voices are heard. Don’t micromanage, and trust in your team to deliver only the best. Creating a work environment that simultaneously validates and challenges your workforce will reap tremendous rewards, both in terms of productivity and your company’s culture.
6. Be honest
A staple of any healthy relationship, honesty is also an essential aspect of leading by example. Misrepresenting any person, yourself included, or any information is counterproductive to your long-term success, as it will only breed distrust. Being honest and transparent will result in less confusion. Make honesty the rule, not the exception.
7. Stay tenacious
There will always be challenges to face, and your willingness to tackle them directly and thoroughly will speak for itself. Staying committed to a project, no matter the difficulties, takes courage and persistence and will represent the core values of your organization more than any mission statement or philosophy ever could. Work hard and complain little, and your team will do the same.
8. Do the work
A seemingly obvious point, but also one of the most important. As a leader, you are not above the team — you are part of it. Roll up your sleeves, batten down the hatches, and dive into the task without hesitation. Your willingness to do whatever it takes will not go unnoticed, and reminds your team that you are all in this together.
9. Stay self-aware
One of the best ways to lead by example is to check in with yourself. Regularly conduct a mental self-evaluation and ask yourself, “How am I doing? What things am I doing well? What thing could I improve?” Notice how you react when a problem or challenge arises, take note of a neglected relationship or obligation, and balance your work and personal life. Think about others, as leading requires empathy and compassion.
Finally, be self-aware without necessarily being self-critical: recognize when old patterns of thought and behavior are blinding you without beating yourself up for having them in the first place. Always strive for improvement and keep a level head.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Ken Sterling is the Chief Marketing Officer at BigSpeak Speakers’ bureau – the leading keynote and business speakers bureau in the world. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California and an MBA from Babson College. Ken teaches Entrepreneurship, Marketing and Strategy at UC Santa Barbara. He is a serial entrepreneur, keynote speaker, business consultant and sales & marketing expert. Connect with @bigspeak on Twitter.
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