It seems like the definition of what a “leader” changes on a daily basis. When most of us grew up, we looked to great American presidents, army generals, prosperous businessmen and women and our parents to teach us what it meant not only to be a leader— but, how to be a great one. However, with both times and values changing drastically in the last 40 years, what does it mean now?
I have had the pleasure of having a lot of terrible bosses in my career. I say that, while silently laughing to myself because it was a living nightmare at the time. However, having these less than positive role models taught me exactly how not to be. One of the first things I learned was to be open-minded. The reason why I hired employees from varied backgrounds is because they all bring unique aspects to the table and those different perspectives challenge me and make me better for it. I think a common and detrimental mistake that business owners make is surrounding themselves with “yes” people. You know, the type of employees that are afraid of saying anything that may contradict with what you think or have stated. While I would like to think that I am always right or know everything that is going on (in every applicable industry), I can’t always be— there’s no way. The worst thing you can do as a leader is to limit the honest feedback you can get from your employees. You need to realize that there are people out there who will say it anyway, just not to your face, so take advantage of this “real talk” and use it constructively to better whatever it is you are doing.
Another aspect that took me a long time to fully understand and implement was being realistic. As a business owner, I truly believe that the sky is the limit when it comes to both potential and success (you should, too). Initially, when we were just starting out, everything was done “ASAP”— this is 100% common and understandable, you’re new and hungry and that’s a good thing to be. However, over time, this “ASAP” mentality became harmful both personally and professionally. At first it was my hours— clocking 14-hour days, getting up before the sun rose and finishing right before I couldn’t physically do it any longer. Then, this activity noticeably impacted my work-life balance, which was non-existent at that point. It put an unbelievable strain on my personal relationships and effected my work professionally. Another point to mention is that having an “on-demand” work culture is damaging to the establishment of a positive work environment, one that has both structure and respect for your employees’ time and workload. Of course, this happens. But, if it’s still happening 10 or 11 months into the life of your company, you need to reassess what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. I completely understand and respect sacrifice, but there’s an equal balance for everything— you need to find yours to be successful, both personally and professionally.
Learn to delegate. When I first started my company, I was the only employee, the rise and fall of its success was on my back. It was both a tremendous responsibility and rush. When my company grew to the point where I was hiring employees, I have to admit that it was difficult to share the reigns at first. It takes a lot of trust to hand over responsibilities, no matter how large or small they may be, but you need to learn how to do it. In order to be an effective leader, you need to have the sense of hiring good great candidates for needed roles and have the trust and confidence to give them responsibilities, without having to micro-manage each facet of their job.
Once there were other people working for me, the next thing I had to learn how to do was effectively listen and create a healthy, positive work environment.This can be challenging, but it is so critical to implement. The first thing you need to realize is that you have an opportunity to cultivate a work environment that is conducive to the continued growth of your company. Ask yourself, if you worked for someone, what would you like the company culture to be? What would have made you work harder or better for a company? Is it perks such as longer paid vacation time, or maybe it’s tuition reimbursement, whatever it is, start developing solid reasons why employees would want to work for your company over others. The more value you provide; the more value your employees will provide. It’s 100% give and take.
Recognize hard work and talent. Once you have a team of solid employees are working for the betterment of your organization, you need recognize good work by either verbally appreciating your employees or by giving them a bonus/ incentive to keep up the hard work (because you do notice it). It’s critical that you do this because the cost of going the whole process of on-boarding a new employee is not only expensive, but it also sets your company back.
Being an effective leader is a constant learning process. As long as your company is thriving, there is no reason why you should ever stop pushing yourself to be better, for not only your company, but also for your employees. Think of it as a constant evolution, and get excited about it! You have an amazing opportunity to positively shift ideals and mindsets both internally and externally surrounding your company. Remember, the sky is the limit.