Based on my years of experience as a new business advisor, I always find leadership to be more important to business success than any new technology or innovative solution. The challenge is to adequately define leadership in terms of everyday activities. Most entrepreneurs believe they are leaders, even though the feedback I get from their team and partners may indicate otherwise.
Thus I’m always looking for more practical guidance on the right activities to be perceived as a business leader. I found some great specifics in a classic book, “The Leadership Challenge,” by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. These authors bring a wealth of experience in this domain from their workshops, writing, and lecturing on business leaders worldwide.
They have identified ten specific behaviors of exemplary business leaders that I believe every entrepreneur and business professional must focus on to improve their leadership abilities, as well as the perception of others around them as a leader:
- Clarify values by communicating shared values. Being viewed as an exemplary leader requires first that you find your voice on your own deeply held values – beliefs, standards, ethics, and ideals. Then strive to understand the same for your constituents. Affirming all shared values is the way to building productive and working relationships.
- Set the example by aligning actions with shared values. People listen to what you say, but they follow what you do. How you spend your time is the clearest indicator to all what’s important to you. Your questions determine the path people will follow and focus their search for answers. Show that you actively listen to feedback and model the values.
- Envision the future by imagining the possibilities. Even as you stop, look, and listen to messages in the present, you also need to spend considerable time reading, thinking, and talking about the long-term view. Leaders today need to express passion for doing something significant no one else has yet achieved, including society and environment.
- Enlist others by appealing to shared aspirations. Enlisting others is all about igniting a passion for a purpose and moving people to persist against great odds. You have to engage the hearts and minds of your constituents. To foster team spirit, breed optimism, promote resilience, and renew faith and confidence, real leaders look on the bright side.
- Seize the initiative with innovative ways to improve. Leadership is inextricably linked with the process of innovation, of bringing new ideas, methods, and solutions into use. This means making things happen where others don’t, and rewarding initiative in others. It means looking outside your experience and promoting diverse perspectives.
- Experiment to generate small wins and learning. Leaders break down big problems into small, doable actions and initiate experiments that don’t paralyze others with major risks. This creates a climate for learning and winning, to build resilience and grit, as well as incremental progress toward goals. It also builds personal fulfillment, rather than fear.
- Foster collaboration by building trusting relationships. Without trust, you can’t lead. You can’t get people to believe in you or each other. Trust is the key to productive relationships, and relationships with peers, constituents, and customers are key to great businesses. Building trust requires showing concern for others, and open sharing.
- Strengthen others by developing their competence. A well-recognized paradox of leadership is that you become more powerful when you give your power away. The best leaders spend more time supporting and mentoring their constituents to develop their competence and confidence and then delegate effectively with accountability.
- Show appreciation for individual excellence. The best leaders are clear about the goals and rules, expect the best, always provide feedback, and personalize recognition for results. One of the most powerful forms of recognition is a simple “thank you” delivered in a timely manner. Find out the types of encouragement that make the most difference.
- Celebrate victories and a spirit of community. Fun isn’t a luxury at work. Smart leaders find and create occasions to bring people together to publicly celebrate accomplishments and build community. Get personally involved in as many recognitions and celebrations as possible. Show you care by being visible in the tough times.
Exemplary leadership behaviors like these will always make a profound positive difference in people’s commitment and motivation, their work performance, and the success of their company. Especially if you are don’t yet carry an executive role or title, now is the time to start practicing these activities. The most effective and satisfying leadership comes without a title to lean on.