I believe a quote by Ralph Nader in his book Crashing the Party sums up the role of a leader well: “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”
If you’ve worked very long in the corporate field, you’ve likely been exposed to high-level executives who were strong, competent, insightful leaders. You’ve also likely been exposed to executives who weren’t. The difference between the two is often dramatic.
Effective leaders, from my perspective, are quick to damp down their own ego and instead focus on the development and subsequent success of their top team. Leaders who concentrate on the advancement and improvement of the players who make up their team are setting themselves up to succeed not only with their group goals but also with their global, company-wide goals.
One of the key objectives to accomplish this is to focus on actual leadership. But, the ability to lead a team of people toward a successful business outcome isn’t as easy as you’d think. Below are my top tips on how you can become a leader of leaders:
Tailor your approach to each team member.
Some people who get promoted mistake advancement with implied leadership. It doesn’t happen that way. It’s not an organic progression. It requires a different mindset, a different perspective and a different process.
Anyone who does a good job and excels in his or her field can be promoted into a leadership position, but it’s not always justified. Sometimes, a perfectly qualified performer who is an expert in their field is neither trained nor geared for management.
Just because you can perform a task to perfection doesn’t mean you can supervise someone else to perform your old job to precision. Perhaps that person isn’t the stickler for details that you were. Perhaps your replacement can’t perform with as much agility and speed as you did.
This is why I believe one of the most important skills for a leader to develop is the ability to adapt. People are individuals. Each person learns in a different way, at a different pace. The trick is learning how to recognize the way each individual person ticks and how he or she learns in a lasting and profound way. Hammering away at each person on your team as if they were a copy of you and the way you work won’t get the job done.
Explain the ‘why’ behind your actions.
A massive mistake I’ve observed people chosen for a position of leadership make is to automatically decide that everyone reporting to you should adjust their attitudes and/or behaviors to suit your desires. I’ve seen this all too often, and it is a travesty.
Each and every person now reporting to you as a leader should be clear on why you’ve been chosen for that role. Jealously and rivalry can easily rear their ugly heads. They can be prone to anger, not understanding why the most qualified person (in your viewpoint) has been deemed the “chosen one.” The other team players might be reluctant to accept the leadership role granted to an employee who was recently considered equal to the team.
First of all, you need to focus on your new job and take care to always be professional. Realize what to expect; the first weeks in your new leadership role will be the most difficult. You’ll be settling into your new position and getting comfortable with the changes in your work relationships. You need to call out any bad behavior by your former associates and lead by example. Be firm, and create and maintain appropriate boundaries.
Don’t be afraid to delegate.
One important part of being a leader of leaders is to recognize what your strong suit is not — and delegating those tasks to someone who is very strong in those specific areas. You must realize that you cannot be an expert in every aspect of the contributions of the team. Different employees bring different talents to the job. In my experience, the day you understand and acknowledge that simple fact, not only will it free you up to do greater things and higher leadership tasks, but it will also empower you to invest in a worthy employee who is awaiting the lesson to become a leader of his or her own.
Inspire your team.
It really isn’t that difficult to inspire another person and point them in a positive direction. After all, that is what someone else did for you. Pass along the favor and the tradition, and develop the talent that is right in front of you.
When you work for an inspiring leader, you’ll know it! You’ll feel it! He or she will be enthusiastic and thrilled about your efforts to electrify yet another leader. They will encourage, coach and cheer your efforts to develop another leader that will increase the value of your organization.
As a leader, you can be an inspiration to your team by making your expectations clear from the beginning. No one enjoys floundering because of goals that aren’t expressed in a straightforward manner. Call on your team’s experience by asking for their suggestions and input on important projects. Everyone likes to feel useful and essential. Collaboration benefits everyone. Communicate and share your vision. Be available and approachable. No employee has ever been inspired by a closed door.
When you take the time and effort to inspire the next generation, you spend your time wisely. It will benefit your company, your corporate structure and your vision for the future. And after all that effort, it will definitely benefit your bottom line.
According to Jim Harter, co-author of It’s the Manager, “Managers are much more likely to inspire big-picture, cross-team cooperation in their employees when they themselves are engaged.” The key takeaway, from my perspective, is you are responsible for inspiring yourself, your leaders and the leaders of your multiple teams. If you don’t motivate them, who will?
This article has previously been featured on Forbes