Some might argue that I’m in no position to discuss leadership. I’m 23 years old, I’ve never led anyone or anything but myself. I have never had subordinates and never run a business. Nonetheless, it seems a hot topic these days and I do feel I can bring a few ideas to the table, though I wouldn’t claim that they would be anything new.
1. Pick an approach, make a decision and stick with it. It’s very hard to take direction from someone who changes their minds constantly. I do believe in flexibility of course, but it’s important to feel that the person you follow has convictions and principles and aren’t making decisions willy nilly. Otherwise, people don’t trust your decisions or directions. They start wondering where they’re going…and where you’re going too!
2. Be transparent. I understand that not everyone needs to know everything about the business side of things, but a trusted leader is one that is understood by his followers. The only entity people follow in blind faith is God, and even then you’re encouraged to ask questions! (Depending on your particular belief system) No one enjoys being a pawn in a plan they aren’t even made aware of. It creates resentment and instability.
3. If you act casual, so will your employees. I’m sure you remember high school. People may have resented strict teachers and appreciated those that let them slack off, but no one ever came up to a teacher who let them watch movies in every class and thanked them for the impact they had on their lives. “You really inspired me with your “I don’t care what you do, I just want my pay check”” attitude, said no one, ever. I’m not suggesting bureaucracy or overly formal decorum but if you share your personal life with your subordinates, you can expect that the next time their personal lives are troubled, they’ll bring it to the office too. Be honest, you started it!
4. Don’t badmouth anyone. Ever. If you have disputes with clients, employees or even the guy at the coffee shop, don’t come into work and vent your frustrations at your underlings. If you’re having trouble with someone, make it private. If your subordinates often catch you making negative statements about their colleagues, they suspect you’re doing the same thing about them. On top of that, it makes you look like you’re too cowardly to speak directly to the person concerned. Don’t flaunt your gossip. Your captive audience won’t see it as a sign of strength.
5. Loyalty is earned through time and effort. Loyalty is not something you obtain through gifts or favors. It’s something you earn by showing respect, being a good listener and being fair to everyone around you. Subordinates will talk, they will listen to one another’s stories and decide how well their captain is running the ship. If you’re unfair to one, they will all know and they will all be a little more hesitant next time around.
6. Don’t flaunt your position. Someone much wiser than I has mentioned this “The greatest leaders are those who had not intended to be leaders.” I believe this to be true. The binding cause (whether it be cause, objective or company) is the goal. Your leadership means that others are following you to attain a goal, not to bring YOU up as a person. They all have their own goals, be aware of them and make them feel that those are cherished as well.
7. Never state assumptions as facts. If you THINK something is a certain way, add that into your sentence. Phrases such as “X is Y.” are difficult to argue with for your underlings as they aren’t necessarily in a position to undermine your authority or feel comfortable in telling you when you might be off track. Therefore, be careful with X is Y statements. They do sound assertive, but even leaders make mistakes – and you’ll avoid quite a few of them if you leave room for interpretation or opinion. No one says you have to follow the advice, but it’s to your advantage to listen and assess.
8. Don’t make broad generalizations. This seems obvious but often isn’t. Colloquialisms and expressions are full of broad, sweeping statements that sound appealing but don’t apply in every situation. For instance, “introverts aren’t good managers”, “Red means passion.”, “Asian people are shy.” These kind of slips may seem like honest mistakes but they are, in fact, demeaning and counterproductive. At their worst, they can be interpreted as prejudice, otherwise they just make you look ignorant.
9. Don’t tell your subordinates about them – let them tell you about themselves. There’s nothing more frustrating than having your boss tell you about your personality, your preferences or your feelings. If it’s about your performance or some sort of assessment, great and perfectly appropriate. Otherwise, keep your opinions on my Jungian colour code, my horoscope, my orientation, my belief system or my preferences to yourself. I may not have an accurate sense of self, but I suspect that those who have authority above me don’t have a stronger sense of me than I do.
10. Be kind. The line between being a pushover and being kind isn’t as thin as you might imagine. Kindness doesn’t mean that you won’t fire anyone or that you won’t tell people what to do – people who work for you expect to be told what to do, so long as what they’re doing is helping you reach the overall goal (see #6). Be kind in every aspect of your life really, it makes following you a treat instead of a chore.
Those are my thoughts, let me know what you think! Any I’ve missed?