A lot has been written about the difference between management and leadership. Management and leadership must go hand in hand, but they are not the same thing. One can be a manager, but not necessarily an effective leader. Conversely, one can be a strong leader, and not have the manager title to go with it. My goal for this post is to outline some of the key tips I have personally found to make an effective leader. In the direct sales world, where one can be a leader whether trained on the subject or not, ongoing education is an important part of building a robust and healthy team, that is open, collaborative, and celebratory.
1. Leaders celebrate big and small successes. Leaders spend time giving positive feedback and celebrating success. Progress is progress, no matter how big or small the step toward the goal. Most people like warm fuzzies and positive recognition, especially when it is done in front of their peers. In general, positive reinforcement yields better results and motivation than punitive feedback.
2. Leaders define short and long term goals both personally and for their teams. Setting goals that are SMART – specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-based – will help the team stay focused and motivated, when they know what they are working toward. Perhaps that is giving a team member a promotional target for a future date, and then working together on the action plan to hit it.
3. Leaders help their teams see the big picture. Leaders help define a vision of the future, as well as the action plan to achieve that vision. This includes regular motivation, sharing the vision, asking for input on the action plan, and tracking and communicating progress. Do you want your team to be 500 people in 50 states? Share that vision with the team. Help them feel personally invested in the vision.
4. Leaders seek opportunities to continue learning. The best leaders know that there is always more to learn, to be even more effective at communicating, motivating, and teaching their own team. Learning comes through many forms – classes, seminars, books and magazines, online blogs and articles (like this one!), and networking with other successful leaders.
5. Leaders are proactive communicators. Your team should hear updates and announcements from you – not from other sources or through the grapevine. Proactive communication will help build trust and openness, when your team knows you are freely and quickly sharing information to help them succeed.
6. Leader celebrate publicly, correct privately. Celebrate your team member accomplishments publicly, but keep constructive feedback or correction private, specifically if you think it will embarrass the receiver. But don’t shirk the responsibility to give constructive feedback for fear of confrontation. Honest and corrective feedback is an important part of a leader’s role.
7. Leaders treat people with respect and importance. When you communicate with people, give them your full attention. At that moment, they are the most important person. When people feel your focus, eye contact, respect, and time, you will build a trusting relationship.
8. Leaders share the glory, but take the blame. If the outcome was successful, it was because my team made it happen! If the outcome failed, it was because I did not provide adequate preparation, time, resources, etc. When a leader is willing to fall on the proverbial sword and take accountability for the team’s outcomes, it will build loyalty and trust with the team she is leading. And when that leader gives all the credit of a successful outcome to the team, it equally shines on her.
9. Leaders are self-motivated hard workers. Leaders know that success will not fall into their lap. They are going to have to make their own path, set their own goals, develop their own plan, and walk the talk that they teach their teams.
10. Leaders communicate honestly and respectfully. Leadership is all about communication! Open, honest, respectful communication is the cornerstone of effective leadership. Clear and articulate, communicating what is needed at the time it is needed.
11. Leaders promote collaborative information sharing. It might be easy to assume that keeping information to yourself will give you a competitive edge, so that no one can use that same information to compete against you. The opposite is actually true. When leaders and teams share information freely, it does a couple things. First, the collective knowledge of many is greater than the knowledge of one, so everyone learns more. And second, when you share and collaborate with others, they are likely to share with you. This promotes teamwork, and everyone grows and succeeds.
12. Leaders solicit alternative opinions and perspectives. Leaders know that their opinion or perspective isn’t the only one, or even necessarily the right one. Gathering options, ideas, and input is an important part of leadership decision making. Then, when the decision is successful, the glory is given to the team (see #8.)
13. Leaders hold people accountable. Part of what builds leadership trust, is when the team knows you will both share success when it’s due, and hold them accountable when necessary. Consistency is a critical aspect of leadership behavior.
14. Leaders embrace change and progress. Clinging to the past, complaining about progress, or outright fighting it, will not build the trust of your team, or help get their buy-in. Effective leaders are going to be at the forefront of the change, helping train others on the new information, and promoting the positive aspects of what the change will do for the team.
15. Leaders are good listeners. This tip goes hand in hand with #7. When people talk to you as a leader, stop using the computer, put down your phone, and mute the radio. Give them your attention, treat them with importance, and listen to the message. The feedback may be something important to incorporate into other information sharing or decision making that you are doing with your team.
16. Leaders help people find their strengths. Sometimes it takes an objective outsider to see strengths that we cannot see in ourselves, and then push us toward that goal. When I know my leader is behind me supporting me, I am likely to stretch myself, knowing I will get positive encouragement and celebration when successful. Additionally, leaders will look for a balance of skills for a team. If everyone on the team is exactly like me, we are going to be missing the competencies that I personally don’t have. Leaders look to build well-rounded teams, with lots of different skills and strengths, and then call on those skills when needed.
17. Leaders can translate vision into reality. While leaders can share the vision with their teams (#3), they can also translate that vision into an actionable plan with milestones. The action plan is the tangible execution of the vision, and keeps people focused on the daily tasks and activities.
18. Leaders are not afraid to take risks. Coupled with #14, risk taking pushes leaders and teams into new areas of opportunity. Trying new things, experimenting, and getting creative are a great way to build team camaraderie, and possible realize new areas of success.
19. Leaders inspire people to action. Ideally, a leader that walks the talk is inspiring people to take action, because they know the results are attainable. The leader who coaches, communicates, and celebrates big and small progress, will inspire their teams to action through their own behavior.
20. Leaders create new leaders. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, leaders create new leaders. Being a role model, teaching, communicating, sharing, and all the other tips on this list, will teach your team to model YOU.
There is not one silver-bullet to effective leadership, and it’s not something that can happen over night. But when a leader puts the needs of the team ahead of her personal needs, communicates effectively, and celebrates freely, that builds trust and loyalty to the leader. And over time, that inspires the team to action and high performance. To boil it all down to one philosophical sentence: The leader succeeds when the team succeeds.