Most people who move into a management position get there because they were an excellent performer in their previous role. They immediately start working to create mini versions of themselves. Eventually, their team gets burnt out by trying to become something they aren't or they fail in the management role altogether.
Why does this happen? These people can likely trace their problems back to their inability to learn, grow and improve as a leader.
You may have plenty of industry knowledge and unique insights when you first get that promotion or start that company, but you will be using less of those skills in your new role. As you make improving your leadership skills a priority, you'll be in a better position to generate the desired results for your team or company, ensuring those you lead can achieve their full potential.
Here are four distinct "levels" of leadership that all leaders must go through if they wish to get the most out of their employees and strengthen their chances for long-term success.
No one wants to work for a boss that isn't self-aware. Mike Erwin, author of Lead Yourself First came on the Follow My Lead Podcast and we discussed how suggestions become orders and body language becomes culture. At the end of the day, people watch and focus on the leader.
No one knows this better than Dharmesh Shah, founder and CTO of Hubspot. He explained in a LinkedIn blog a few years ago, "The best way to earn respect, to earn trust, and to earn the right to lead others is to lead not by word but by example. When I know you truly believe what you say - because your actions support what you say--then I will start to trust you. Then I will start to respect you. Then I will truly start to follow you."
Because of this, the first "level" of leadership isn't really focused on directing others at all. Instead, it's all about holding yourself personally accountable for your actions, habits, and behaviors so that you will set an example others will respect and follow.
After focusing on improving yourself, the next step is to cultivate authentic, meaningful relationships with your employees. The best leaders don't just care about getting results (though this is certainly important as well). They legitimately care about the well-being of their employees and seek to bring out the best version in each person with the foundation of having a strong relationship with them.
The amount of time leaders at this level spend getting to know their team members is one of the best indicators of their progress. In a recent interview for the upcoming Welder Leader book, Maria Weist told me, she spends as much as 25%-30% of her time building relationships with team members.
Building better relationships doesn't mean you need to become best friends with each of your employees, but it does require that you get to know them as individuals. By demonstrating an interest in their well-being and serving as a positive, supportive mentor rather than a harsh dictator, you will build trust and influence that will help them produce their best effort.
Your dedication to your own work and your interactions with your employees should naturally blossom into the creation of a distinctive team or company culture.
As Ankur Srivastava, CEO and co-founder of Swarmsales explained, "In an increasingly specialized, competitive business landscape, companies need to differentiate themselves and find their place in the market in order to survive and succeed." This doesn't just apply to differentiating yourself to clients in the form of products or services-- it also means you must differentiate yourself by your culture both to employees and customers.
In my experiences, I've found that the most elite company cultures stem directly from the attitude and values of their leaders. By focusing on your unique values and mission, you'll be able to attract and retain like-minded individuals who are willing to put in maximum effort to help the team succeed. In fact, research has found that companies that describe themselves as "mission-driven" improve retention by 40 percent.
Finally, the best leaders aren't content to merely motivate their employees. Instead, they have a genuine desire to develop the leaders of tomorrow. They want to help current team members become legitimate leaders who can make a difference both in their current company and the world at large. Tom Peters famously said, "leaders don't create followers, they create more leaders"
When you build a team full of leaders, you'll have even more people actively working to improve their own efforts and the performance of everyone in the company. You'll have more people striving to strengthen relationships and increase company loyalty.
Developing new leaders within your company is a process that will ultimately keep on giving. You will create lasting relationships, and people will stick with your company because you have created a powerful and uplifting culture. Best of all, your new leaders will continue to develop other leaders, further increasing their contributions to your business. By getting the best out of everyone on your team, your company will make it through the long haul.
At the end of the day, leadership is a journey, not a destination. By being intentional in your development as a leader you drastically improve your company or team's odds of being successful not just for the short term but most importantly for the long term.
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.