Leadership is influencing others to take action. It’s that simple. But how you influence them and to what degree is what makes all the difference.
I’ve found CEO Kevin Kruse’s definition in Forbes to be the most simple and accurate definition yet:
Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.
If you influence through fear of firing, reprimand, or ire, then you aren’t maximizing the efforts of others. You’re only influencing them to do enough to not get fired while they look for another job.
But you can maximize the efforts of those you lead by becoming the type of leader they want to follow. Not someone who commands them to do their best, but someone who makes them want to do their best.
I’ve been in various military, corporate, and volunteer leadership positions for 25 years, and I’ve seen the below easy-to-implement actions work for any leader who tries them.
1. Take and encourage initiative
Good initiative is when someone takes smart action in the absence of orders. This needs to be practiced by you but also encouraged in those you lead.
Think of initiative as decentralized brainpower. It’s better to have more brains in more places than one brain in one place. A healthy environment for initiative multiplies brainpower in an organization.
Think of initiative as decentralized brainpower.
The quickest way to squash initiative in someone is to micromanage them. This shows you don’t trust them to create or make good decisions themselves. The second quickest way is to punish them for bad judgment. If they really did something stupid but were genuinely trying say “good initiative, bad judgment.” This way they have the morale to press on…only smarter this time.
Allowing initiative means people will try things. Trying new things leads to mistakes sometimes. That’s OK. According to Scientific American, mistakes and failure are often the prerequisite to success. Why would a leader purposely destroy one of the steps that leads to success?
Learning from failure and moving on is key. If you squash their will to try by punishing mistakes, then why should they be creative or try anything at all?
“Be willing to make decisions. That’s the most important quality in a good leader. Don’t fall victim to what I call the ready-aim-aim-aim-aim syndrome. You must be willing to fire.”— T. Boone Pickens
2. Value decisive action
I remember watching a documentary on Teddy Roosevelt and being struck by a theme that he embraced throughout his life. That theme was to “Get Action.” He said:
“Get action; do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create; act; take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action.” — T.R.
A decisive leader who takes action on that decision is a leader people will follow. Of course, there should be wisdom behind the decision for best results, but the deeper a leader wallows into hesitation and “what if’s,” the more they start to drown team enthusiasm in the swamp of indecision.
Gather as much information as you can, consider the “what if’s” for a reasonable amount of time, then decide. Get action!
Doing something is usually better than doing nothing.
“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.”— Conrad Hilton-Hilton Hotels
3. Respect everyone
A leader has to respect their people if they want their people to respect them. Of course, there is a need to keep a leader/follower dynamic —as that’s how most teams are most effective, but that hierarchy of responsibility in no way should translate to a hierarchy of respect. Respect should be shared equally by a leader with the “higher-ups”, peers, subordinates, and the person who empties the office trashcans.
A humble leader who realizes they aren’t God’s gift to everyone often becomes a leader who is a gift to everyone.
The concept of self-fulfilling prophecy comes into play here as well.
If someone thinks their leader thinks they are worthy of respect, they will take actions to back up that belief. When someone believes in you, even if your self-respect is already healthy, you are more apt to believe in yourself even more. Respecting someone is a sign you believe in them in a way. Those you lead often respond to that by believing in you back.
Respect everyone, no matter how “important” you become. In this way, you remain effective as a leader because you remain humble as a human being.
“I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” — Albert Einstein
4. Be a role model for what you expect
Setting the example is the cornerstone of all leadership.
You must do or be willing to do what you are asking others to do. People don’t care what you say as much as they care about what you do.
I contend that you can’t even be called a leader if you don’t set the example of the behavior or actions you want your team to adhere to. If you tell them what to do then you do the opposite, you’re just another bad boss— the cheapest version of a leader.
Be what you want your people to be. Do what you want them to do. Setting the example is the only way you earn the moral authority to lead them in a way they’ll respect.
“What you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
5. Remember there are things bigger than work
Being a member of your team is only a small slice of the pie that your people are. You have to see the rest of the pie if you want to understand the slice sitting in front of you.
Getting to know your team on a personal level is possible while maintaining professionalism.
This instills trust in your people. They realize you care enough about them to see them and their family as worth knowing about. It makes them realize you think they’re valuable people. This starts to build trust for you in your team.
And only on a foundation of trust between leader and team can great things be accomplished.
Jon Gray, Vice President, of HomeAway, Inc. echoes this sentiment when asked about good ways to manage people older than you:
“Managers should legitimately care about each person he or she manages. If you invest your time, effort, and energy in helping people, they will be able to develop personally and professionally. You’ll also be tuned in to their goals and aspirations. As a result, employees are happier and better at their jobs.” — John Gray, VP of Homaway, Inc.
Some things about leadership are complex. Some things take time and effort to master. But others, like the points listed above can start to be implemented right away.
So value initiative, be decisive, “get action”, respect everyone, set the example, and get to know your people. Any or all of these actions, when implemented, will make you a more effective leader.
They say chess takes minutes to learn but a lifetime to master.
Leadership is like chess in that way, but if you lead with a caring and humble heart, you’ll jump closer to the master ranks much sooner than you think.