Excellent leadership skills are essential if you want a successful business. It won’t matter how good your hard skills (i.e., analytics, financial acumen, sales, etc.) if you lack leadership skills (soft skills) applied scrupulously to the daily management of your firm, you’ll fail.
Hiring the right employees is only half the battle. Good leaders also effectively motivate employees, encouraging them to put forth their best efforts and embody the mission of the firm. Without effective leadership, firms struggle to push their business forward and fail to optimize performance.
A common misconception says that excellent leadership skills are something you’re born with, and you either have, or you don’t. The truth is more complicated. And, while leadership comes more naturally to some people, there are plenty of ways you can improve your management skills and motivate your team more effectively.
The most successful business owners are the ones who are aware of their shortcomings and take steps to improve their skills so they become a more effective leader.
Types of leaders
In defining the characteristics of successful leaders, we often make the distinction between transactional and transformational leaders.
Transactional leaders employ outdated modes to motivate employees through the sustained use of coercive forms of power—threats, promises, and legalistic pleas. Enforcing this type of motivation is expensive and, often, ineffective since enforcement can’t monitor behavior 100% of the time. Examples of enforcement include:
- Performance monitoring
Firms implement enforcement efforts by hiring supervisors who spend nearly all their time, ensuring employees perform tasks as directed and documenting breaches in published standards regardless of whether the violation was necessary based on circumstances. Employees become resentful and may spend a significant amount of energy trying to circumvent efforts to monitor their behavior.
Enforcement efforts involve other expenses in addition to supervisor salaries, including cameras, keystroke monitoring software, vast employee manuals, block specific internet sites, and more.
In contrast, transformation leaders lead by example by
- working hard (often arriving first and leaving last)
- embodying ethical behavior and acting in concert with collaborative strategies
- building a culture based on mutual respect, employee worth, and support for the firm’s mission
- acting as a coach and mentor to employees
- valuing open communication, authenticity, and collaboration
Below are some of the best ways for business owners to improve their leadership skills.
Define your mission
If employees are unsure about the firm’s mission, it is a lot harder for them to stay focused and motivated. Often, business owners are unclear about their vision, and they do not communicate their mission effectively to employees, which has a big impact on productivity. Other firms communicate their mission in writing, but don’t live that mission every day.
If you want to lead, you need first to determine your overall mission and vision. Goals translate your mission into actions. Simple goals like increasing sales and expanding the business are good, but also consider broader goals that embody your mission.
Do you want to establish yourself as the most trusted brand in your industry? Do you want your business to have a positive impact on the world in some way? Are you looking for ways to create an environmentally sustainable business? When you start to answer these questions and communicate your vision to employees, they feel as though they are part of something much larger, and this gives them a lot more focus and encourages positive behaviors.
Invest in education
Although some people say you can’t learn good leadership skills, there are many great educational resources out there that help improve your skills as a leader. Institutions like Norwich Online, for example, offer a great Master of Business Administration course, which is great for new business owners as well as experienced ones. As well as learning a lot of useful, practical information about the day-to-day operation of a business, great modules on leading change in business and improving project management are offered.
As well as investing in your own training and education, it is important to extend these opportunities to your employees. If you provide training and further educational opportunities, it shows employees you value them and are thinking about their long-term future with the company, and that is a great motivation booster.
Whether education and training focus on company-specific jobs or improving the skills of your workforce, employees see training as an investment in their future, making them more loyal to the firm and better prepared to ensure the future of the firm, as well.
Good communication is the hallmark of good leadership.
Communication your vision for the company and your expectations for your employees is one form of communication, but communication must flow both ways. If your employees do not feel they can come to you when they have a problem or a suggestion, employee morale and motivation suffers. In addition, employees who work on a task over time become experts on how the task should be done. Ignoring their suggestions means the firm loses these valuable insights.
People are also less productive when they do not feel heard, and they don’t feel valued, which impacts motivation. Further, issues within the company may go unnoticed for a long time because employees do not feel comfortable speaking up.
That is why open communication should be one of the core ideas at the heart of your company culture. Have an open-door policy and let employees know that they can come to you with whatever issue they may have.
Make an effort to check up on employees every now and again and see how they are doing as well; just make sure that you are not micromanaging. Sam Walton was famous for this management style he called “managing by walking around”. He rewarded employees he saw who went the extra mile or who saw a need and did the job even if it wasn’t in their job description.
Meetings are another good way to boost communication, as long as there is a clear focus, and you are not wasting people’s time.
Dealing with problematic employees
All businesses must deal with problematic employees at some point, and, as a leader, it is down to you to handle the situation.
An employee spreading gossip about their coworkers, for example, creates a toxic work environment and leads to issues, such as lack of collaboration around the office. Ignore an employee’s bad acts, and you’ll soon find bad behavior breeding like bunnies. You may even face legal problems if behavior rises to legal standards.
The rest of your team looks to you to resolve violations of company standards, and if you don’t act quickly, employees lose trust in you. Some bosses are reluctant to get involved in interpersonal situations like this. Still, if employee behavior affects other workers or their ability to do their jobs effectively, the behavior negatively impacts your business.
Ensure you deal with problematic employees in a timely and professional manner. Document everything involved in investigation and outcomes as you may face calls to justify your handling of problems or equity meted out to employees.
Effectively handling problematic employees is an important leadership skill.
These are some of the best ways to improve your skills as a leader so your team is fully behind you, and you can push your business forward.
Need marketing help to plan your business strategy?
We welcome the opportunity to show you how we can make your marketing SIZZLE with our data-driven, results-oriented marketing strategies. Sign up for our FREE newsletter, get the 1st chapter of our book on digital marketing analytics – FREE, or contact us for more information on hiring us.
Hausman and Associates, the publisher of MKT Maven, is a full-service marketing agency operating at the intersection of marketing and digital media. Check out our full range of services.