What do you need to do to be a successful leader?

Recently, I sat in a discovery meeting with three partners from a very successful firm.  In discussing professional services needed for this company, the one thing they all agreed upon was leadership training. This firm has been in business for over 40 years. Anyone would be surprised they needed leadership training.  After doing more digging, I found out they were frustrated about employees not taking more ownership over their roles. The owners were also feeling a lack of appreciation. Employees were taking a bit of liberty with their time off, arrival times, and free days.

This firm didn’t have good policies in place, so there was some ambiguity. Also, the partners struggled with effective delegation. When they assigned tasks to employees, the tasks wouldn’t come back as they expected. This created more work for the partners who had to work later to fix the problems.

These issues are common in the workplace. So, it got me thinking, “What makes a good leader?” Now in full and fair disclosure, I’m not a perfect leader. I’m far from it. I’ve got my own challenges, but over time in my own business and spending time around other successful businesses, I have learned what good leadership looks like. It is not a magic formula.  However, I believe there’re four things that need to be present in a company for effective leadership to take place.

  1. Set clear expectations. There needs to be clarity around expectations. One effective way to do this is an Operations Manual with clear policies, procedures, and responsibilities. Ambiguity only sets up leaders and employees for missed expectations and disappointment.
  2. Hold regular one-on-one meetings. A one-on-one meeting is simply a five to ten-minute chat between a leader and a team member. Always start with a positive focus – what has gone well that week? This sets aside a predictable space to check in on the status of tasks, uncover any challenges, and clarify any questions. The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier is a great resource for having effective one-on-ones.
  3. Understand the strengths and capabilities of you and your team. How do you naturally approach or solve a problem? How do you handle interruptions? Are you able to use your strengths in your role? IBA uses a conative assessment to answer these questions and helps companies understand how their employees instinctively take action. This knowledge allows leaders to uniquely delegate to and empower their team members more effectively. Team members feel more engaged as they work in line with their natural strengths and capabilities.
  4. Put a performance management process in place. It is very important to have a process for providing feedback – both positive and constructive. But many leaders struggle to find time to give positive feedback or build courage to give constructive feedback. Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time by Susan Scott details how to get to the root of a matter and have the tough conversations in an effective way.

In The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, Michael Gerber makes the point that almost every successful business, no matter the size, started with somebody that was proficient as a technician.  For example, you may be a great engineer, but you have no idea how to run an engineering firm.  This is something that must be figured out along the way.  Part of this is learning how to be a good leader.  By implementing the components outlined above, your communication and delegation will run more smoothly, and you will empower and engage your team more effectively.