5 Surefire Ways to Become a Better, More Effective Leader
Have you ever worked under a bad leader? Someone who didn’t connect with, inspire or motivate his or her team members? A boss who came and went just as quickly ... or annoyed you, personally, so much that you actually quit your job?
According to a Gallup study, 50 percent of employees polled said they had quit at some point in their careers because of bad management. Not only is that a staggering statistic; it makes you wonder why there are so few effective leaders at all.
What can entrepreneurs do to become better leaders themselves? It’s a question I often ask myself as an enterprise marketing leader who heads teams of 30 or more and manages multimillion-dollar budgets. Here’s what I’ve learned in just a few years on the job:
1. Give credit where credit is due.
"A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled. They will say: We did it ourselves."
-- Lao Tzu
In a 2019 study by BambooHR, more than 1,000 U.S.-based employees were asked to rate 24 potentially "bad" boss behaviors, on a scale from "totally acceptable" to "totally unacceptable."’ The results were predictable:
57 percent said that a boss taking credit for other people’s work is unacceptable
44 percent admitted that a bad boss was the primary reason they'd left a job
30 percent agreed that a boss with a bad temper or condescending attitude was the last straw
Unfortunately, none of this is surprising. Many workplaces have toxic cultures that do not foster trust or collaboration but run instead on a kind of Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest model.
2. Serve as a mentor and build people up.
“People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.”
Why do so many bad managers take credit for other people’s hard work? Because one of the most common traits of bad managers is that they have me-first mentalities. Leadership for them is little more than a means to an end -- more prestige and a higher salary.
Some might argue that those rewards are fine motivations for leadership. But most of us would disagree. We know from our personal experiences with great parents, teachers, coaches and mentors that great leaders lead because they care about improving the lives of those around them.
Related: What Can You Do About Bad Bosses?
Here’s another statistic for you:
79 percent of all employees have quit due to a "lack of appreciation," according to a comprehensive study that surveyed 200,000 people over 10 years.
As a leader, never forget that you are a mentor to your teammates. And, just as with good parenting, good mentoring requires building people up, not breaking them down out of frustration.
3. Innovate and commit to a vision.
"Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use."
-- Steve Jobs
Bad managers love to point out that great leaders like Jobs aren’t always nice to their teammates. Fair point ... except that Jobs was always the MVP at his companies, which more than made up for his mean disposition.
Jobs was also always willing to put in the work and commit to his daring and innovative vision. This made him an effective and inspiring leader despite his often mean and manipulative behavior toward his employees.
Yes, even great leaders are flawed. But what separates billion-dollar founders from the rest is their singular ability to be daring. They are able and willing to commit to a specific course of action, even when times are tough and few people agree with them.
Wonder what character traits an innovative leader has? The Harvard Business Review interviewed 33 leaders in the top 99th percentile for innovation, as measured by their peers, employees and bosses. HBR's study found that innovative leaders share the same 10 traits.
4. Be digitally aware
“If your customer base is aging with you, then eventually you are going to become obsolete or irrelevant. You need to be constantly figuring out who are your new customers and what are you doing to stay forever young.”
-- Jeff Bezos
Speaking of innovative leadership, it’s not possible to be an innovative leader in the 21st century unless you’re also digitally savvy.
A study by DDI found that digital leadership skills are becoming increasingly important in the 21st century. In fact, companies that have the most digitally capable leaders financially outperform the average by 50 percent.
Is technological awareness limited to younger generations of leaders? Not necessarily. Recognizing the role of technology in the success of your company is an attitude, first; a skill set, second.
5. Learn from leaders you admire.
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
-- John F. Kennedy
The general belief is that leadership is "intangible," an "it" factor that some talented individuals have, and most people just don’t. Of course, this is a myth. Leadership, like any other skill, is something that can be practiced and perfected.
Will some people be naturally better leaders than others? Sure. But there are so many successful leadership coaches like Tony Robbins for a reason. Anyone can become a better leader with hard work and persistence.
One of the best ways to learn the skills you need to be a better leader is to model your leadership style on great leaders you admire.
Practice makes perfect.
At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to leadership. There are different styles suitable for different people. You’ll have to find the style that suits your innate personality and strengths to become the best leader you can be.One thing for sure, however: Great leaders are made, not born.