Once upon a time great leaders were defined by their larger-than-life personalities. Occasionally, that still happens. The vision of one person is so uniquely crystal clear that the troops can’t help but follow. Rockstar CEOs such as Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Meg Whitman and Steve Jobs, are just a few names that come to mind.
However, for every Bill Gates there are legions of leaders that are creating growth and driving success for their business not through the cult of personality, but because they embrace many of the qualities that catapulted these corporate icons into our collective consciousness. These everyday women and men share some common qualities that can easily be adopted – no multi-million-dollar budget or doctorate degree required.
You don’t need to author a book, make the cover of Fortune or wear all-black to stand out as a leader who motivates, inspires and – most importantly in today’s marketplace – innovates. Whether you run a department, a small business or a large corporation, here are five must-have leadership tips that I’ve found to be essential when growing a business:
1.Steer Clear of the Weeds
Tim Ferriss, whose business podcast can usually be found in the #1 spot on iTunes, wrote: “To be a good leader, you cannot major in minor things, and you must be less distracted than your competition. To get the few critical things done, you must develop incredible selective ignorance. Otherwise, the trivial will drown you.” Ferriss has lot of other great advice worth reading and listening to, but that particular quote rang especially loud for me. Leaders often justify micro-managing or fixing employee mistakes as a quality control mechanism. Of course what you’re really doing is absolving your team of accountability and sending the message that you don’t trust them. Instead of spending time out in the weeds, focus on the most essential quality a leader must bring to the table. Read on!
2.Make Innovation a Team Sport
Among us ordinary humans walk the fortunate few who simply deliver one groundbreaking idea after another, but rest assured: they’re a rarity and they do not constitute a benchmark that you should worry about. For us mere mortals, innovation is a leadership quality that is often tough to get a handle on. What does it take to be an innovative leader? A recent excellent piece by Linda A. Hill, a professor at Harvard Business School, tackled that very question. One observation that you should take to heart: a leader isn’t necessarily always the sole visionary. In fact, according to one leader cited in Hill’s article, innovation as corporate culture will only happen if leaders “view themselves as aggregators of viewpoints and not dictators of decisions.” As someone who is responsible for innovation here at Union Savings Bank, I can tell you that most new products and services don’t simply pop up in the boardroom. They take shape and are nurtured at the front lines where our teams are listening to and interacting with customers.
3.Your Reputation Precedes You
If you’re among the millions who regularly rate and rank any of your hundreds of everyday experiences, be it shopping for a car, applying for a mortgage, dining out or traveling, then you already fully appreciate the importance of reputation management. Whether your business is retail or wholesale, consumer-facing or B2B, you have customers who will share their experiences with you, your people, your products, your services and – yes – even your contractors and franchisees. In short, the democratization of information (thanks Google) has created an entire industry around reputation management. Of course the topic isn’t new, companies like the Harris Poll have been measuring corporate reputation for years, calling out both winners and losers. While few have the resources available to these Fortune 100 brands, leaders of even the smallest businesses must maintain a relentless focus on threats that today range from hacking into your customer files to nasty social media campaigns from dissatisfied customers. Focus your entire organization on the importance of doing the right thing – and make sure they have a clear understanding of what exactly that means in every area of your company, from warranty and service issues to how employees communicate with your customers at the front desk.
4.Bend, Don’t Break
Flexibility is the new normal in business. If you don’t know how to bend, better start practicing or you’ll surely break. Think about all the factors that can impact your business today, starting with a workforce with a completely different set of needs and wants, right through digital marketing tools that can help your competition poach your customers with very little effort. What’s a leader to do? Step one is to check old school behavior at the front door. Bending does not mean giving in – instead it’s the very quality that defines listening, collaboration, transparency and the ability to adapt. It’s arguably the toughest shift for leaders who were mentored by old-school executives. Keep in mind that flexibility doesn’t mean you’re giving up control of the ship, it simply means that you’re willing to react with lightning speed as the winds of fortune change.
5.Confidence is King and Queen
Great leaders come in all shapes and sizes, but you don’t need to stand tall and carry a big stick to show your team and customers that you’re confident in the direction you’ve set. According to a recent University of Texas at San Antonio study that examined leadership qualities in the modern workplace, the key to successful leadership is confidence. Frankly, it’s no surprise when you take a closer look at our high-stress, top-speed work environments. Combine around-the-clock information overload, a blistering work pace, heavy multi-tasking requirements and rapid-fire marketplace shifts and you get a workplace where few people feel on-track or clear about their company’s direction. Modern leadership requires that you communicate desired outcomes and goals clearly and consistently – with conviction.
So in the end, there are countless additional resources as well as thousands of opinions and leadership tips on what constitutes an effective leader today. One of my favorite go-to sources for leadership tips is the legendary Peter Drucker whose many valuable and timeless management insights are no less relevant today. Drucker’s take on what constitutes a great leader is this: “Your first and foremost job as a leader is to take charge of your own energy and then help to orchestrate the energy of those around you.”
Written by Melisssa R. MacCaull
Director of Marketing, Union Savings Bank