“Do you have any leadership success secrets you can share with us, Ms Barrow?” the young entrepreneur asked eagerly.
“I might…but I like to keep my secrets close to my chest!” I replied mischievously.
I do have some leadership success secrets and I will share them.
After all, I have been in leadership positions all my life.
From captain of my high school’s hockey team, through to several leadership positions in the not-for-profit sector in business and in government.
And I have also served in leadership positions in organizations like Toastmasters and the Human Resources Management Association of Barbados.
When I reflect on my leadership journey, I realize that there are some “secret” principles I have relied on (unconsciously at first) in every situation.
You can call them my leadership success secrets.
And if that’s true, I want them to be yours too because I want you to be successful, whatever, wherever and whomever you lead.
What is leadership?
But first, let’s be clear what we mean when we talk about “leadership”.
Very simply, you can say it’s a process of getting things done through people.
But on the other hand, the leader is the person that others look to for guidance to achieve goals and get the job done.
So you see right away, leadership is a relationship built on trust, between the leader and the followers.
Therefore, as a leader, your earliest and most important role is to seek to connect, with and to, those you lead.
Leadership success secrets
Now we know what leadership is, let me share 10 of my secrets of leadership success:
- Choose to lead
- Become the leader others choose to follow
- Embrace your role as an influencer
- Share your vision for the future
- Make others feel important and appreciated
- Lead from and with your values
- Influence the culture through expectations and example
- Provide both personal and professional opportunities for growth
- Care and act with kindness and compassion
- Hold yourself and hold others accountable
I can hear you: How can I choose to lead when I was thrown into this role at the deep end?
That may be true. But there’s also an opposite position, where many of you actually offer yourself for leadership.
Whatever the circumstances, it is important for you to choose a purpose for your leadership beyond the money and or glory of the job.
In choosing to lead, you are asking yourself the question:
“Why do I want to lead?”
And that answer must take you to a place that’s bigger than the narrow reason you came to that leadership position in the first place.
Here’s an example for you:
When I acquired a gym, because I had established my business model, I was well aware what I was getting into. But for me, profit was not enough.
You see, I was eager to lead this business and the team I had inherited. Why?
I wanted to transform the fitness industry in my country where plus-size people felt welcomed and not marginalized in gyms. Choosing to lead the gym gave me the perfect opportunity.
It would seem that this follows smoothly and naturally from #1 above.
Yes…but here’s the truth.
In deciding to become the leader others choose to follow, you have to be aware of the needs of the “others.”
For example, your team might be one which needs to be called out on their mistakes, quickly and in a direct manner.
This approach might not equate with your core values, so your leadership success will be in jeopardy, very early in the game.
Remember, the opposite can also be true.
So you have to learn to have meaningful conversations and really value the feedback.
American author, speaker and business consultant, Kenneth Blanchard once said:
“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”
I so agree with that…
Throughout my leadership journey, I have embraced my role as an influencer. Maybe it came naturally for me, but it is important for every leader.
You see, influencing is about so many important things. For example:
- understanding people
- Understanding how people think
- Getting people to understand the messenger
- Getting commitment
- Changing the direction of an org
- Knowing how to start a movement
- Connecting and inspiring
But ultimately, I like to think that influencing is about:
How you move people from resistance to compliance to commitment – especially when you have only limited authority.
In my experience, small business owners are notorious for, in their words, “keeping things close to their chest”.
Look, we all have trade secrets and certain intellectual property that we want to protect.
But as leadership goes, you shouldn’t include your vision in this protection.
When you share your vision, and show your people how they can help you achieve it, you really skyrocket your leadership and change management success.
Why is that? Well, it is easier to give directions when the receivers of those directions have some indication of the destination.
In too many “leadership” cases, we are so consumed by our own self-importance that we forget that we are only half of the equation.
When you behave this way as a leader, it’s the fastest way to undermine your leadership success.
And get this: some leaders actually believe that making their team members feel important and appreciated might result in them getting “too big for their boots!”
The real question is: how do you make your staff feel appreciated?
Well, off the top of my head, you can:
- Delegate effectively
- Don’t kill their good ideas
- Listen to understand and not to just to refute
- Find ways to recognize and reward them for their extra efforts
I believe that any leader can start with these. And if you do, watch how appreciated your team will make YOU feel.
I cannot stress how important it is for you to know your values.
I know you really believe you know them. But I bet if I were to ask you to pause and list your 10 important values in 15 minutes, you will take 2 hours…
Listen, values represent standards of behavior which define how you live and work. They are what you stand for and they inform what you will and will NOT do.
Your values set will serve as a guiding light that speaks to the character and culture of the business or organization you lead.
That’s why it is important for you to be clear about your values, especially as a leader. If you don’t have clear values, your leadership success will be more “miss” than “hit”.
I know you’ve heard of “leading by example”. But have you heard that it works best when you linked it to clear expectations for your team?
This requires decisive leadership in which you’re prepared to make decisions, even if they are wrong.
You have to outline the action steps and the roles, including yours, and then communicate these clearly and effectively.
Just to be clear, effective communication is not just about issuing orders It requires you to ask or and act on valuable feedback.
Then you have to lead by example. For instance by:
- Keeping your promises and commitments
- Working alongside your team
- Displaying the behaviour you want from your team
- Developing yourself
- Following the rules
- Coming to work with a high degree of enthusiasm and energy
Setting clear expectations and leading by example is the best way to build a high performance team and guarantee of your leadership success.
Jack Quirk, Performance Management Consultant, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield explained the business imperative of developing people in this way:
The most important asset that any organisation has is its people. To remain competitive, organisations must be constantly changing, improving their methods of doing business… If you want to change and be more competitive, you have to train everybody. Developing people is the only way your business is going to stay in business.
This is a serious challenge for a leader but you can’t back away from it, if you want to be successful.
It is also your greatest opportunity to lead by example.
I have said repeatedly, because I so deeply believe it, you can’t lead a $10m business with $1m skills.
I also know that you are inclined to throw up your hand and declare “where do I begin?”
Well, you can begin by getting these 6 steps to begin your personal and professional development.
Recently, I had the pleasure of conducting a Visioning Exercise for one of my clients, in my role of Turnaround Consultant.
Imagine my delight when the Leader insisted that “kindness” must be one of the company’s core values!
Far too often, we are inclined to believe that being a “tough boss” means that you have to treat people like dirt.
And if you don’t, the alternative is to agree with them every time. But neither position is true.
When you act with kindness and compassion, you build connections with your people. You get to know them as people and treat them fairly.
You are patient and you do not practice any of those useless rules that leaders should ditch. You constantly show gratitude and act in good faith.
At #5 above, I shared that making people feel appreciated and important is one of my leadership success secrets. It ties right in with this one!
I know that among the leadership of many small businesses, the big debate is “what is accountability?”
In a nutshell, it’s holding people responsible for reaching performance standards or behaving in an acceptable manner on the job.
I like to think that:
Accountability is the glue that binds responsibility to outcomes!
Now here’s the problem. Accountability is often treated as a one-way street. You know, the one on which the leader holds everyone else accountable.
But if you’re to be successful at leading, you also have to hold yourself accountable, in a very transparent manner.
Therefore, an effective “accountability process” might look like this:
- Set clear, reachable expectations
- Have measurements or “completion criteria” for each one
- (Know) & share the consequences of meeting/not meeting them
- Hold people responsible for meeting them
- Apologize when you drop the ball and fix the issue fast
- Lead by example!
If you can follow this process to hold yourself and your people accountable, your leadership success is guaranteed!
Your next “leadership success” steps
You asked me and I answered. I gave you my 10 secrets of successful leadership.
However, I don’t want you to just read them in passing, I want you to embrace them and act on them.
For example, if you’ve been in business for a few years, you could lean into #7 and begin treating your people with kindness and compassion, for a start.
If you’re now starting out, then please…start with #1 and choose to lead!