For as long as I can remember, I dreamed of being a leader. I loved achieving as a team and the feeling of camaraderie over individual successes. There is something significant about going through a process or journey with others and being victorious. But I quickly found out that just because you dream about or love something does mean you are going to be great at it.
My first opportunity leading others professionally proved to be a disaster. I ended up being living proof that Jocko Willink's quote about leadership is true. "There are no bad teams just bad leaders." I failed my team, but I knew it didn't have to end that way.
After years of studying, practicing, applying, and writing about what the best leaders do, I am confident in a set of common tips that all leaders of teams should know. If followed, applied, and mastered, these 10 important tips will increase the probability of improving the performance of your team as a whole. These do not have to be completed in order and you will probably find that you are already practicing a number of them.
I define consistency as “the steadfast adherence to principles, truth or standards of behavior”. It can often be confused for intensity, but truth be told, consistency beats intensity every time. What keeps your teeth clean is not brushing them with vigor, but brushing them twice on a daily basis. The same is true in leadership. Consistency is a vital part of being a leader. A steadfast adherence to principles and standards of behavior will make you the most successful leader you can be. When you lack these, you create a sense of uncertainty and doubt for your team that is almost impossible to overcome.
The vast majority of conflict in a work environment or any relationship can be blamed on poor communication. Many leaders do not place enough emphasis on and put enough effort into clear communication. When a leader or team does not properly communicate, assumptions are made. This results in people being unsure about where they stand or how they are supposed to behave. Making it a priority every day to be a great communicator and choosing to over- vs under-communicate will help avoid these issues.
Relationships are the center of everything. As such, the relationships you build as a leader must be based on trust and mutual respect. Where most leaders struggle is in understanding their responsibility to earn those two things. Long gone are the days of a title earning the respect of those you lead. In today’s workplaces, a title should only be a reminder of your responsibility to earn trust and respect from your people.
The desire to be part of something bigger than oneself is deep within everyone. Being purpose-driven is the best way to satisfy this need. Knowing what it is you want to do, beyond making money, is such a vital part of being successful. Ask yourself, who do we serve? Why is it important? What greater impact can/do we have on the world?
Core values are the fundamental beliefs of a person or an organization. These guiding principles dictate behavior and help people decipher right from wrong. A common denominator between all great leaders is the time they have dedicated to defining their own set of core values. You always know a core value not by the words on a wall or website but by seeing what a leader rewards, recognized and talks about. They are so important because talented people aren’t attracted to empty core values, but rather the exercising of them.
An integral part of leadership is becoming better than you are today and having a vision for what is possible in the future. Note, I use the word vision and not sight. Sight restricts a team to what they can currently see, vision captures the future of what could be. Elon Musk did this beautifully for his team at SpaceX. “We are going to land people on Mars by 2025,” he said. Imagine going to work there every day and working towards putting people on a different planet! Musk’s people have a clear cut goal and end date to strive for. As a leader, if you do not communicate an improved future state, the chances of you and your team achieving it are not very good.
Whether your team works in the same office space every day or is remote, creating a safe and connected environment matters all the same. In doing so, you are allowing your people to become the best version of themselves because people want to feel safe and a part of something bigger than themselves which makes them feel welcome.
To achieve the results you desire, you must cultivate and get the right behaviors and habits of your team. The natural question becomes, how do leaders get these things consistently? By setting high standards, holding people accountable and allowing people to choose to meet or exceed them. A standard is simply defining what good looks like. If you are clear in defining them and your people are held accountable, you will see a consistent pattern of good choices.
All coaching interactions between you and your people should have a common theme: make an individual better, not tear them down. You should proactively be coaching an individual based on their skills. Skill is defined as “the ability to do something well”. It is imperative that you understand the three levels of skill development in order to best serve your people. These include; building critical mass, accelerated performance, and mastery. Varying tactics and techniques are necessary during your coaching conversation dependent on where a team member is within the three levels.
Developing skills to help you and your business in the short-term presents a great deal of value. However, you must go beyond the short term and contribute to the long-term success and well being of your people. I help leaders to evaluate the following 5 areas components when coaching for long term development: Do you have development mindset? Do you encourage people to no end? Do you go beyond the job? Do you challenge what’s possible and do you align to your people's dreams? If you can answer these questions about each member of your team, they know you care about them for the long haul. Which means the more they will give you in the short term.
Every leader began somewhere. If you are anything like most leaders, it's safe to say you didn't not take your job of leading others seriously enough early on. You probably just winged it or did what came naturally. This is what has created a low quality of leaders in the current workplace. The latest statistics show 60% of new leaders fail within the first 18 months of their job. Additionally, the vast majority of people don’t have confidence in the leaders they currently have.
In order for you to excel as a leader, you must work hard to understand, master, and apply these ten tips on an ongoing basis.
John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College.