Leading the Way
By ActionCOACHMark McNulty
The economy is improving, your customer base is growing and changing, and people are buying again. Your world has changed, yet in many ways it remains the same, as business is still business, yet somehow everything feels different. The reality is actually some combination of the above, with the fundamentals of business mostly unchanged, yet the business environment completely different than ever before – not better or worse, just different. So how do you navigate your business, your team, through the uncharted waters? It’s simple really; you must be the leader that your team and business needs and lead them through it.
The first reaction I often get to that last statement is “but I’m not a great leader” or “leadership doesn’t come naturally to me”. My response is always the same, because, as Peter Drucker said so eloquently, “Leaders are not born, they are grown”. True leadership is often misunderstood, and is often confused with personalities and communication styles. Leadership is not about personality, it is about behaviors, and all behaviors can be learned. Here are six keys to leading your business and your team to success this year.
The first and most important key to leading your team is to create the Context of your business. What I mean by this is to define what your company is all about – Vision, Mission, Culture, Core Values, and Philosophy. We often focus too much on skills and procedures, yet without a well defined context, skills and procedures can be misapplied. As Simon Sinek wrote in his bestselling book, start with your why.
Once you have established the context of your business, you need to provide your team with a vision for the future which inspires the team, gives them a reason to come to work and give their very best every day. The vision is the picture of what can be, if only they let themselves believe it. Your job is to then help them believe it is possible and that it is worth working for. You do this by ensuring that they can see themselves in it, that they see how achieving it is for the common good, that it is easy to get involved in and exciting to accomplish.
With the context and vision now in place, you need to begin behaving the way you expect the team to behave. We call this “Modeling the Way”, and it is the most important leadership behavior in your business. Your team will watch how you behave before beginning to behave in a new way themselves. They will not adopt new behaviors that you refuse to adopt, and they will expect you to Do What You Say You Will Do.
Leaders also need to be constantly challenging the status quo. Too many people think that this means you need to be incredibly visionary and creative, constantly coming up with breakthrough ideas. Some leaders do have those skills, but most don’t, and they are not necessary to lead your team. All it really takes is to always be asking questions about how you and your team do things. My favorite status quo question is simple: “How does that process/behavior/activity help us achieve our Vision and Mission for ourselves and our customers”. The discussions that result from this question can lead to the dozens of little things you can do to turn your team and business from good to exceptional.
The next thing that great leaders do is enabling their team to act by establishing a culture and environment of trust and support. When your team knows that you have their back, they will begin to try new things without fear of retribution. Your job as their leader is to give them the framework to succeed and then get out of the way.
The last key to great leadership is to always look up. Too many business owners spend too much time looking down and looking back. What happened yesterday is over and done with, and you can either dwell on it or learn from it. Leaders learn from the past, apply the learnings in the present and future, and regularly look up and out to ensure they are heading in the right direction and identify the icebergs to avoid and the next opportunity to steer towards.
So there you have it, six easy keys to being a great leader. If you can only remember one, make it the last one – Leaders Always Look Up.