Have you ever had a boss who was a real jerk? The kind of person that criticizes everyone, refuses to listen, and takes all the credit for your work?
Or how about a boss who can’t make decisions? They overthink everything, don’t give clear instructions, and then micromanage everyone?
These kinds of leaders make life and work a lot LESS FUN. And these are just a couple of ways people in charge fail to provide effective leadership.
It’s a shame because leadership shapes every aspect of our world. Civilization couldn’t exist if people didn’t cooperate. But that can only happen when we agree on what to do.
Leaders are the people who manage our group agreements. And when leadership skills are lacking, everyone suffers.
There are lots of effective leadership styles. But the best leaders share some common principles. You can use these insights to boost the success of your team or business and make your own life a whole lot better.
You don’t even have to be the one in charge to practice leadership. If you’re a freelancer or an employee, effective leadership skills can help you stand out and get ahead. They can even improve your personal life!
Let’s take a look at how effective leadership can be the key to your success.
Signs You May Need To Amp Up Your Leadership
You can tell a lot about the leadership of a group by the way its members feel and interact. Great leaders create great cultures that people enjoy being part of.
Enthusiasm is strong, and things get done. When mistakes or failures happen, they become learning moments. That way, everyone can do better the next time.
When people feel frustrated and drained on a regular basis, there’s usually leadership issues involved. Two of the most common problem areas are accountability and communication.
Lack Of Accountability
“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”
– Thomas Paine
One of Harv’s top principles of success is that your word must become law. Leaders who don’t keep their word fail to model accountability. And when they don’t ensure others follow through, group members can’t rely on each other.
This creates a lot of confusion. Balls get dropped, and deadlines get missed. Everyone blames somebody else. People might struggle to get tasks done, or they might not even know what needs to get done!
As a result, a new crisis pops up every minute. There’s constant pressure to run at full speed or to put out the next fire, so everyone gets tired and frustrated. Everything takes more time and energy than it should. So there’s no opportunity to figure out how to do things efficiently.
The stress over long hours, day after day, can eat away at productivity, enthusiasm, and even health.
Another way leaders can fail in accountability is by focusing on their own interests at the expense of group members or the good of the organization.
For example, former Sears CEO Eddie Lampert was criticized for years for focusing only on shareholder benefit and ignoring the needs of both customers and employees. In the wake of Sears’ recent bankruptcy, Lampert is being sued for repayment of “billions of dollars of value looted” from the company.
Communication suffers when leadership is lacking. Critical information is often unclear or missing. Misunderstandings and disagreements become common. And people can’t be sure what the goals are or how best to achieve them.
A leader doesn’t have to be in charge of organizing and sharing information. But if they aren’t making sure someone is, you end up with a five-person subcommittee meeting to decide whether to use a semicolon or an en-dash (Here, let’s save you some time – screw semicolons. Use the freakin dash).
Communication style can also cause problems. For instance, if leaders criticize or belittle, others might copy them. That creates a miserable environment where nobody wants to talk to anyone.
Being respectful is just a starting point. It’s also important for leaders to understand that people have different ways of talking about ideas. Some people tend to be analytical, and others are more intuitive. When leaders don’t find ways to bridge these differences, it can be hard to get anything done.
So you can see that poor leadership creates a poor culture, but what does that mean in real terms? What’s the cost of letting these conditions persist?
Why You Should Make Leadership Development A Priority
If leadership issues don’t get addressed, they can create all kinds of problems and spiral out of control.
Stress and Discouragement
Motivation goes down, and performance suffers. Productivity and efficiency plummet, so everything costs more. Projects don’t get finished on time. And problems go unsolved. Basically, everything starts to suck.
When this happens in your business, you might feel overwhelmed like you don’t have any support. It may feel like your team isn’t following through. But they might feel helpless to change things.
Customers start to notice the decline in quality and feel let down. They’re not getting what they were promised. So sales drop and customer retention start to nosedive.
In the case of Sears, Lampert refused to invest in its stores but instead used funds to buy back stock shares. Sales dropped steadily for years, because who wants to shop at an ugly, outdated store where everyone’s unhappy?
Revenue and profit start sliding. Financial targets get missed.
The lack of money makes it more difficult to achieve goals or make changes. The business struggles to keep its head above water, let alone grow. Lampert started selling off core company assets just to fund daily operational expenses.
If you’re a small business owner, this type of situation can put you in a bind. You aren’t earning the money you want. But if you want out, it could cost you. You might have trouble selling the business for what you want (or at all) because it’s not structured as a good investment.
The ship is sinking, and there are too many holes to plug.
Anything not growing is dying. Unless things change, there’s bound to be some kind of collapse. Jobs disappear, departments get shut down, and businesses fail.
Sears had made it through two world wars, the Depression, and even the rise of e-commerce. Poor leadership is what ultimately killed it.
Here’s another example – one of our team members used to work in the marketing department of a large company. Managers antagonized their workers and squashed innovation… even when it made the company money! Major projects were often dropped on people’s laps at the last minute with almost no instruction. “Are you done with that 50-page catalog that’s due in three days?” “WHAT catalog?!”
One day (while on vacation at Disneyland!), she got a call saying that the whole marketing department was getting axed. And that was just the beginning – the entire company has since dissolved.
Great Businesses Grow From Effective Leadership
If the results of poor leadership sound about as fun as a bonfire made from your life savings, there’s good news. Great leadership can get you substantial results on the positive side.
Happier People, Creativity, and Synergy
Effective leadership creates an environment of safety, creativity, and positivity. People enjoy working together and feel a sense of loyalty and belonging. Morale and trust go up.
Group members know what’s going on and what everyone’s role is. So they can access and share information as needed to get the job done. Productivity goes up and costs go down.
When people feel appreciated and included, they are more engaged. Everyone gets along better and cooperates to improve things for each other and the group. They offer new ideas for cutting costs, streamlining work, and serving customers. Stronger motivation and enthusiasm means problems get solved faster and better.
A positive group vibe improves quality of life AND work for everyone.
Profit and Growth
With improved systems and reduced costs, profits can soar. And this doesn’t only mean money. Whatever you’re hoping to gain, great leadership will help you get more of it. That can include reputation, goodwill, and new opportunities.
Effective leaders strive to create continuous improvement. They test new ideas and track results, building on every success. As a result, the organization can grow and evolve.
As a counterpoint to the Sears disaster, another retailer has created amazing success through their emphasis on providing great leadership. For example, The Container Store prides itself on taking care of employees and customers.
They offer higher wages and more benefits than similar companies. And during the Great Recession of 2008, while others were laying people off left and right, they found creative ways to keep people employed.
This created a huge amount of loyalty and engagement, and the results show. They had a highly successful IPO in 2013 and consistently rank among the top U.S. companies to work for.
Here’s What Great Leadership Looks Like
Effective leadership involves both an attitude and specific traits. Together, these help you guide and influence others to do and be their best. The organization as a whole, benefits, as well as the individuals involved.
How Leaders’ Attitudes Affect Their Success
Poor leaders are either too strong or too weak. The strong dominate others and use force to get their way. They rule by fear and criticism. And they piss people off. If they are successful, it’s short-lived as the emotionally toxic environment they create usually ends up undermining their goals. Poor leaders often face heavy criticism, and even legal action (like Lampert).
Weak leaders can struggle to make clear decisions. They don’t direct people effectively or hold them accountable for their actions. They don’t inspire confidence or garner respect.
Good leaders get people to do things their way, and they get the job done. They make tough decisions and do what they think is best for the organization. But often they don’t inspire people or earn loyalty.
They might treat people with basic respect but likely don’t get too close or invite much creative input. They can lack vision or the ability to think outside the box. So they fail to adapt and miss opportunities to grow.
Great leaders take an active interest in their people. In turn, their people take an active interest in them as well as in the group’s success. These leaders help others grow and develop. Everyone has the opportunity to come up with their own best ways of supporting team goals.
Effective Leadership In Action
Now let’s look at some key traits of rock star leaders. Here’s how they get enthusiastic buy-in and create an environment of trust, dedication, and ingenuity.
Open and Clear Communication
Effective leaders are master communicators. They’re assertive about their views and ideas. And they use clear and specific language to make sure they’re understood.
They also know they don’t have all the answers. They surround themselves with smart people. And they remain approachable so people will feel comfortable offering their own great ideas. Top leaders know how to listen.
Focus and Prioritization
Some of the greatest business turnarounds of all time have happened because new leaders came in and refocused the company’s efforts.
When Steve Jobs rejoined Apple in 1997, he jettisoned most of their product line. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy when Jobs took over and set it on its new path.
Biographer Walter Isaacson quoted Jobs as saying, “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” Under his direction, the company streamlined its efforts. They focused on a few core products and services… and soon became one of the fastest growing companies in the country.
How did it turn out? In 2018, Apple became the first U.S. company ever to reach a $1-trillion valuation.
Leaders with integrity elicit more trust and serve as role models for their followers.
Working with integrity means being honest with yourself and the people you work with. You focus on your strengths and know your limits. And you admit your mistakes.
It also means having some transparency… about yourself, and the organization.
For example, some business owners have an “open-book” policy. They share financial info with employees on a regular basis and show how they’re investing in things that benefit everyone. That way, everyone feels like they’re included. So they want to help more.
Appreciation and Encouragement
“Nothing else so inspires and heartens people as words of appreciation. You and I may soon forget the words of encouragement and appreciation that we utter now. But the person to whom we have spoken them may treasure them and repeat them to themselves over a lifetime.”
– Dale Carnegie, How To Win Friends and Influence People
People don’t just like appreciation. They hunger for it. And if you can give it to them in an honest way, they’ll like and trust you more. They’ll be more willing to listen, and they’ll do better work.
It’s no coincidence that the word “appreciate” also means “to increase in value.” When you appreciate others, you increase how valuable they seem to you… AND how valuable they themselves feel. And what’s really cool is, they’ll strive harder to live up to that value.
Motivation and Accountability
Praise and appreciation can go a long way in motivating people. But what about when people make mistakes or don’t follow through? Effective leaders know how to hold people accountable.
Great leaders offer clear rewards for great performance… and will set consequences for shoddy work. But they don’t necessarily dictate these terms. They talk things over with their people and get agreement ahead of time.
That way everyone knows what their role is and what’s expected of them.
Great leaders also keep themselves accountable to their team. They honor their word, follow through on promises, and fix mistakes. They live up to the same standards (or higher!) that they hold others to.
Any change within a business or the market it serves can create challenges. Sometimes, despite great planning and effort, results just don’t materialize. Effective leaders don’t freak out when things go wrong. They maintain a positive presence and work to turn problems into opportunities.
They also diffuse conflicts among their followers, which can crop up when people have different views or working styles.
Like Nick Fury in The Avengers, who transformed a bunch of misfit heroes into an elite fighting team, top leaders help people resolve differences and find the best ways to work together. So they can save the freakin’ universe.
If you want your organization to grow, you have to embrace innovation. Leaders who foster it can reap huge rewards and ensure the longevity of their enterprise. But on the flip side, new ideas need testing before lots of resources get allocated to them.
Top leaders know better than to chase every new shiny object that comes along. But they keep an ear to the ground and invite new ideas.
Leading From Wherever You Are
You don’t have to be an official leader to embrace any of these traits. Any time two or more people are interacting, there’s room for leadership.
You can lead your coworkers, your spouse, your neighbors… even your boss!
Remember to stay positive and listen, and give credit where it’s due. Offer appreciation and provide accountability (in a nice way).
And whenever other people are going bananas because of some problem… you can lead simply by keeping your cool and being the adult in the room.
Lead Your Way To Wealth In Business
To run your own business, you need effective leadership to succeed at even a modest level. And it’s essential for building the kind of business that will make you rich.
If that’s your goal, you have to be able to count on others to run things for you, which means you need to systemize and delegate. Motivating and empowering your team to handle everything will let you remove yourself from the picture. When your business can run smoothly without your involvement, you’ve achieved a high level of leadership kung fu.
That’s how you’ll get rich and amplify your impact in the world. And then you’ll get to enjoy life as you wish.
Whatever your goals, developing strong leadership skills will help you accomplish them. We’ve done our best, to sum up some of the most important concepts about leadership, but of course, there’s A LOT more to say.
So, tell us your thoughts! What do you consider the most important traits of effective leaders? Who are your favorite leadership role models? Share in the comments!
For Your Freedom,