The top 5 ways to be the leader your team needs

What the heck is leadership? There are so many people who write about “being a great leader” and “having great leaders”, and “great leadership”, but what IS it? For most of us, it’s just one of those big, fat, vague words. I thought I’d try to break it down a little bit. A really good leader is somebody who not only has the respect and trust of other people, but has a strong, clear message as well. That clear message will be compelling enough to change people’s opinions or motivate them to get off the couch and actually do something.

be a leader

When people say, “A great leader has good vision.” What do they mean? We know they aren’t talking about prescription eyeglasses. Basically, they mean that great leaders see the big picture, or parts of the big picture, that all the other people don’t really see. Great leaders can put people to work on bits and pieces—within their vision—and make a fabulous whole out of all the different parts. They can do that even if that fabulous whole isn’t necessarily here yet; because they see it in their minds. So vision is partly about seeing, or imagining, things before they exist, or being crazy enough to conjure up some kind of new reality.

All of that said, the ability to see the bigger picture, and imagine something that doesn’t exist, and then clearly communicate that picture or vision to a bunch of people who also happen to respect and trust you (because you are worthy of respect and trust) is no small feat—and it’s essential to running any organization well.

That’s why you should read on to find the top 5 ways you can become the leader your team needs.

1. Research.

There are an awful lot of leadership books in the business section of your local bookseller. Go read a few. Or, research leadership on the web and read about how different leaders do “it”. There’s no one way to lead. There are a lot of different styles of leadership; and there are people who’ve done it the way that you are best at doing it. Spend some time looking at other leaders and learn to recognize your style of leadership.

2. Find other great leaders who reflect that style.

It’s good to have some historical leaders (or leaders you’ve read about in books), but you also need some real world leaders you can relate to; you need to find people who are doing it now. I actually like thinking of having that person sitting on my shoulder giving me advice in difficult situations. So when I’m thinking of a leader I want to model, I’m thinking of somebody I have actually met, worked with, and have seen in action. That makes it easier for me to say (like Brad says about his old boss), “What would Bob Baker do?” Maybe it’s a mentor; a former boss or even a colleague or a coach. In any case, it needs to be someone I actually have seen leading, and have had enough of an experience with them that I can actually begin to walk in their shoes…sort of.

If finding that one style doesn’t suit you, then find a number of people who lead differently in different ways, and take the parts of their leadership style you like, and put them all together. Like making a patchwork quilt.

Whatever you do, study leadership styles. Look at the ones that seem to reflect YOU. Follow those leaders by leading like they do; whether we’re talking about one example or a composite of several others.

3. Feedback.

Being a great leader probably means that you have followers—people who understand and appreciate your leadership. If you have followers, turn around and ask them how you can be a better leader.

So how do I ask for feedback about my leadership? I do it by actually ASKING. I say things like, “How am I doing as a leader?” “What can I do better to make you happier in what you do for me, with me, relative to my brand, my business, my company?” Ask questions. If you communicate: “Hey, I would love to be a better leader”. They might turn around and say, “Hey, you know what? Then stop doing this, dude.”

You can also ask for more specific feedback. So when there’s an event, or a campaign, or a project that you’re trying to deliver, notice how it goes. And then ask your employees, “How do YOU think it went?” If you’ve done this thing several times before, you can ask, “What worked better this time? What didn’t work so well? What made it easier to hear what I said this time, and not the last twenty times?”

Maybe you need to repeat yourself more, or talk slower. You can gather excellent feedback that can really make a difference in your capacity to lead—simple, basic things that people will tell you if you ask, but probably only if you ask.

4. Break stuff. And then put it back together.

If you think something is working okay, but you want to get better at it, ruin it. Sabotage it, so you can see all the different pieces, and then pick up the pieces that fit together better. Another way to say it is: leaders make change, right? Stasis is not a normal situation for leaders. We’re always tinkering.

A concrete example: we have the Founding Mom’s Community (it’s an online portal that we started on one platform). It stunk. It was terrible. And people were communicating; they were doing stuff you’re supposed to do in an online community. But I decided this was not good enough. So I broke it. We’re going to lead in a better way, and create a better platform.

Now, your team team is NEVER going to tell you to break things. They’re happier in a place of stasis. You can’t follow what they’re saying. If you did, you wouldn’t be a leader. Your job is to break things (just not everything all at once!).

5. Own it.

You’ve got to own, or adopt, or embrace, or just get used to the thought, “I’m a leader”. Too many leaders don’t think of themselves as leaders.

Let me say it again: You are a leader.

If you’re reading this article, you are probably a leader. You just need to say, I am a leader. You may not feel it, but then you need to fake it ‘til you make it. You know you are, even if you don’t feel like it right now.

One of the things that holds people back from owning that leadership thing is that being a leader is something that separates you from the team. There’s a loneliness to leadership. Right? Right. So if we own it, we have to own that scary alone part, also.

It can be scary and lonely, for sure. But it’s like when your kids are teenagers and you have the choice of being BFFs with them—and buying the alcohol for them for the party, just so that they don’t do it without you—or choosing to separate yourself from them, and say, “I have to be the parent in this situation and I can’t always be their best friend.” And I gotta say, I see business owner after business owner who wants to be friends with their team. I’m telling you, being best buds with your team members, you are not going to accomplish what you need to accomplish as a leader. You can stay friends with your team members, if you must, but know that it’s not going to help your leadership at all.

Did you start this because you wanted to be friends with a bunch of people you pay? Or because you wanted to DO something?

I’ve seen a bunch of business owners who were trying to be friends with their team members, and their team members have come to them and said,

“I actually want a boss, not a friend.”

So go buy the first round of drinks at the happy hour, and then leave and let the team talk about you behind your back. It’s part of the price of leadership; if you are willing to pay it, you will reap a much greater reward.

What do you do to hone your leadership chops?

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Photo credit: VinothChandar

Jill Salzman

Jill Salzman is currently growing her third entrepreneurial venture, The Founding Moms, the world’s first and only kid-friendly collective of offline meetups and online resources for mom entrepreneurs. It was just named a Top 10 Website for Women Entrepreneurs in 2013 by Forbes, and she's been featured on countless major news outlets for her wits, business and entrepreneurial experience. She also co-hosts the Breaking Down Your Business podcast with Brad Farris.

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