Since college and throughout my professional career I’ve chosen to write; but I only recently began to publish some of the content that I produced. I went back and read a few of the pieces I wrote on leadership but never published, which made me reflect on how I lead today. I was not ready during the ages of 21 to 25 to share with the world my views on leadership. Despite the leadership positions I held in my earlier years, I had not yet earned the right to speak about being a leader.
Every career involves highs and lows, bad leadership, good leadership, and great leadership. Companies will hit rough patches, including layoffs or pivots. Other companies will strive for and achieve massive growth. I’ve been fortunate to experience a lot of different scenarios over the last decade and learn from them.
Throughout all of the old pieces I have written, these are the six thoughts I need to share with the world to guide leaders and inspire their teams.
Give credit where credit is due.
You will win over the most unlikely of people if you simply give them credit for what they do. Leaders get the credit for crafting the master plan, and they brag about the ones who actually do the work to make them appear stronger to others. Spend time building up the team around you, and make sure others acknowledge the members of your team who make it possible to win.
The quiet person in the corner might not want to be praised publicly, and might not ever fight to get their voice heard. Finding a way to give them credit, even if it is not public, will show them how much you appreciate the work they do.
Don’t underestimate anyone.
All people are powerful beyond belief under the right circumstances. Some just have to be given the right circumstance. Everyone has the potential to be extraordinary, and if you are the leader that can pull that out of them, they will be forever grateful and be the hardest working person on your team. You will be able to push them to levels beyond what they knew were possible.
If there is someone on your team that everyone has given up on, fight for them. This is especially true if you were the person who hired them. Find a way to light the fire in their belly.
Make yourself a champion.
A true champion makes it look easy, but they outwork everyone that surrounds them and pulls others up with them as they rise.
When I think of a champion, I think of the star athlete who gets to the gym first and leaves last. The one who demands others around them give everything they have. They would carry the team on their back if that is what it takes to see success.
In business, it’s leaders who constantly outwork their teams and lead by example. The one who is up late ensuring the team has what it needs to be successful. The leader who knows every detail of the business from putting in the work.
By making yourself a champion, you draw in great people who want to be a part of your team. They want to work with a leader they can look up to, and allows them to reach their full potential.
Run at your problems, not away from them.
Find a way to attack your problems so they go away. If you don’t, those problems will only grow and multiply. Once they multiply, problems begin to become quicksand, and you will constantly be fighting a battle to stay above ground.
Not addressing your problems means you no longer control how others view you. This puts your team’s view of you at risk, and you could lose the ability to lead them all together. It can also directly reflect the way others see your team when you need to be the one who is protecting them. Do not allow your problems to get in the way of your progress.
Truly care about people, but make decisions without emotion.
There is no doubt you need to care about your team — they should feel like family in a way. You are responsible for their success, and they learn through your ability to teach them what they need to win.
However, you need to make decisions based on facts and data. There is no easier way to lose the following of your team than by making decisions perceived seen as unfair. Make sure your decisions are clear and your reasoning is transparent.
Every time you make a decision, think about secondary effects without letting emotion affect you. Leaders must make decisions they do not feel good about, but they know are right.
Say “thank you”
“Thank you” are the two most underused words in the English language. Your team needs to know that you appreciate them — so tell them often.
In a busy day, it is easy to overlook the wins. Make sure that you say “thank you” or “good job” to reinforce the behaviors you wish to see more. Let your team know you are paying attention.
I have never executed well on big contests or spiffs. I truly wish I could, but what I have done is use the words “thank you” every opportunity I have. Over time, I came to realize “thank you” is more important than any prize you can give to a team.
Being a leader has nothing to do with a title. Some of the leaders that I have had a pleasure of being around were peers and mentors who never directly managed me. However, I watched and observed behaviors that made them who they are. I tried to learn what about them inspired me to be better, and most of them it came down to a few simple things but mostly they cared about seeing my success. Learning from others — and from your own past — can provide the best lessons on moving forward in leadership.
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