Article originally published by the American City Business Journals on April 6, 2020
Most leaders are managers, but not all managers are leaders. “Manager” is a job title. How do you earn the title, “leader?” You earn that title from the people you lead by exhibiting specific traits.
I wrote my first article for the Philadelphia Business Journal, published on July 22, 2014. The article was headlined, “What makes an effective leader.” This is an update of that article.
I have worked for some very effective leaders who have inspired me and my colleagues to achieve beyond expectations. I have also worked for so-called leaders who were not very effective. I have learned much from both. In addition, I have also observed other leaders as a board member on public, private, private equity and nonprofit boards.
To be an effective leader:
1. Build your organization with the right people
Surround yourself with the team that will help define the vision and mission of the company and make them a reality. Communicate the vision and mission with everyone within your organization, and explain their role in achieving them.
Hire people who have the skills and experience to do the job, as well as have a proactive, can-do attitude. Hire people who have common sense and good critical judgment, and who will know when to violate a company policy when it is in the best interests of the company to do so.
2. Set the right tone at the top and nurture the right culture
In my experience, the prime determinants of sustainable success for any organization, along with the right people, are the right tone at the top and organizational culture.
Tone at the top is set by you and your senior leadership team, and reflects the ethical values of the organization, while culture reflects how employees within the organization deal with each other, customers and other stakeholders. As the leader of your business, ensure that you set the right tone and culture. They determine the behavioral norms of your employees.
3. Recognize the importance of trust between the leader and those they lead
The articles that I write about trust between a leader and those they lead always receive high interest among my readers. Their interest in trust indicates to me that at many companies, the lack of trust within their organization is on the minds of many employees.
Build trust with your employees by being consistent and transparent and by meeting your commitments to them. Don’t blame others for your mistakes. Listen to your employees and allow them to share with you a contrary point of view, and never shoot the messenger who points out the brutal facts of reality. Never criticize or ridicule a member of your organization in public.
4. Embrace operational excellence
Effective leaders are committed to continuous improvement. They encourage their employees to create a sense of ownership in what they do. A culture of continuous improvement is championed by the CEO and their senior leadership team. It is only sustainable if employees throughout the organization are empowered to initiate projects to improve the area of the business over which they have authority and accountability.
Never micro-manage. Let your people do their jobs and hold them accountable for results. Ensure they have access to both the financial and human resources they need to get the job done and then cut them loose to do their thing.
5. Encourage your employees to get out of their comfort zone
Expose your employees to new meaningful experiences. Give them challenging assignments outside of their comfort zone in areas that they have never faced to broaden their experience and see how they perform. Provide them access to expertise to help them learn and ensure the they have the resources needed to undertake the assignment.
There is no better way for them to develop inner fortitude. Your employees will build their self-confidence. It prepares them for their next promotion.
6. Don’t tolerate tyrants
Tyrants who disrespect their direct reports cause untold damage to the performance of their organization as well as make life miserable for those who work for them. These managers tend to micro-manage, blame others for their mistakes and sap the creativity, initiative and vitality from the workplace. They also adversely impact the ability of people to make decisions without “checking with the boss.”
No one can effectively do their job in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. No employee should have to work in such a toxic environment. The best people don’t put up with it, and they eventually leave the company, resulting in a significant loss of talent that will adversely impact the firm’s performance and potential for growth. Don’t tolerate tyrants within the organization. If they won’t change their style, fire them.
7. Travel the journey to achieve the Holy Grail
Align the efforts of all employees by achieving the Holy Grail of every business — become the preferred provider of products and services to your marketplace, so that customers buy from your company and not the competition. How do you become the preferred provider? By giving customers or clients a great experience and by exceeding their expectations. This builds competitive advantage.
Embrace these seven traits. You will be a more effective leader by doing so.
Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.