Strong leadership is preferable within any economic climate, but it is clearly an essential quality in times of economic and commercial uncertainty. It is easier to be an effective leader in a time of plenty than one during a challenging period, because you have the luxury and time to make mistakes, and yet it is often the experience of challenging periods that makes a leader all the more effective in the long run.
Leadership skills are highly prized within companies and organisations, as they can genuinely affect the productivity, motivation and performance of employees, and thus add to the company’s bottom line as a whole. In addition, true leadership skills can, and arguably should be developed by virtually everyone within an organisation, and can really enhance an employee’s career prospects. As we head into an uncertain 2009, here are some tips on becoming a more effective leader.
Start with yourself
No person can expect to influence and earn the respect of others if they are not demonstrably in full control of their own professional lives. This is not just about setting a good example to others, although that is important, but it is also the realisation that an effective leader should also lead themselves as an integral component of the company, rather than being a distant figure that simply delegates orders and workloads. It is only through being on top of your game that you can begin to start developing the tones, qualities and skills to inspire and motivate others.
Calmness is a commodity
In a world of commercial uncertainty, calmness becomes a diminishing and therefore valuable resource. We have all been at positions within our careers where we have benefited from the cool-headed thinking of others, and great leaders tend to exude a confidence and calmness regardless of the turmoil around them. If you want to lead and motivate others, especially during tough commercial times, you must first establish a reputation for calm, clear thinking yourself.
Build a team around you like a house
It is generally true that leaders, even talented ones, will fail to create the impact that they desire unless a significant part of their leadership strategy is devoted to surrounding themselves with good people. A good leader leaves their own ego at the door, and concentrates instead on developing teams that are more than fit for purpose. You should encourage a diverse variety of talent to flourish around you, and fuel their ambitions whilst feeling confident and secure of your own role as facilitator within the process.
Create a vision that others can see
To be a true leader amongst your colleagues, you must first develop a vision of the commercial future that you might ultimately communicate and lead them towards. Your vision must be as shrewd as it is coherent, as comprehensive as it is inclusive, and as achievable as it is far reaching. Look around you at people that you believe to be effective leaders, and you will find that they generally have a single-minded grasp of both the current situation and the desired outcomes of the future. This ability to perceive actions that will make a positive impact on your company’s future performance and achieve agreement amongst your colleagues to work towards shared goals is at the core of professional leadership.
Open people’s minds by being open minded
Particularly during times of commercial and economic pressure, an open mind and a flexibility of approach are key components of your leadership skills. There will be pressure to deliver results, although an open mind is a creative mind, and a creative, innovative approach may well pay dividends in today’s challenging conditions. By keeping an open mind, and being encouraging towards your colleagues ideas, you will not only inspire them to innovate further, but you may well also find that a collaborative effort often yields the best results.
Decide what you can and can’t live with
Setting the boundaries of what you consider to be acceptable levels of performance amongst both your colleagues and yourself is key to effective leadership. In doing this, and doing it as early as possible, you should ensure clear guidance is laid down as to how you expect people to operate. It is also wise to be a realist however, and to accept that there may be some things that you may wish to, but cannot change in the short term. But then that is what the mid and long term is for.
Praise with a loud voice, criticise with a soft one
As with many aspects of management and leadership, it is quality not quantity when it comes to dealing with both colleague praise and criticism. Too much praise and your words will diminish in value, too much criticism and you risk de-motivating the very people that you need to be positive. Instead, work on a strategy that is consistent across all your colleagues, because the rule of law only works if applied equally, and measure your tone and approach accordingly. Encourage with magnified enthusiasm, admonish with quiet authority.
Back it all up
A position of power without authority, or one of authority without power, is not a platform from which to successfully further your leadership ambitions. Both elements must be present in order to develop the respect of colleagues, and a key to ensuring this is your establishing your commitment to backing up what you say. If people come to depend on your word, and your judgement, then they are more likely to trust your vision and get behind it. Similarly, you must take responsibility for ensuring that your company’s promises to its consumers and clients are kept. There is no point in telling people that your company has unbeatable levels of service if you’re not prepared to pull out all the stops to make that claim a reality.
Cultivate a leadership culture
In successful companies, you will often find a devolved structure of leadership that encourages individual ownership and responsibilities within particular areas. This is a great characteristic to foster in your teams, because it is empowering and motivating for individuals to feel that they have a degree of autonomy and freedom in their work. Within your own leadership strategy, the ability to create leaders amongst you will get you to where you want to go faster. Be it through mentoring, personal guidance or specific training, a team built of leaders is a formidable force in any commercial climate.