Being a good leader and a responsible steward of your resources is essential in everything from making a salad to building a spaceship.
To make a salad, you have to buy the vegetables and fruits, cut them, make the dressing, toss everything together, and maybe sprinkle some pumpkin seeds on top.
To build a spaceship, well, this is a little more complicated. You have to concept, build systems, put them together, test them, fail many, many times, keep tweaking, and keep testing until you are absolutely sure your tin can can safely carry people to space and bring them back.
For leading or being part of any enterprise, from the salad to the spaceship, there is a framework or formula that guides the journey. But what defines the success of that journey and the outcomes is often what is beyond that framework and can come down to how you lead your team.
Here we will talk about how to be a better leader and how you can embrace the obstacles of business leadership and help people grow along the way.
1. Always Do the Right Thing
Item number one might seem general and undefined, but it is far from that. While it is easier said than done, we should strive for it in order to become a better leader.
We are often leaning on habit, familiar approaches, and one-sided perspectives and blindly fighting for them. As leaders, we should not.
The path of least resistance comes naturally, but it is the worst teacher.
Avoid shortcuts and use these tips to pressure-test your working habits by using these leadership tips:
- Get another opinion on that documentation that will serve as a blueprint for 100 people.
- Reread that email before you send it to make sure you do not sound condescending.
- Invite people to share their opinions with you in order to get more perspectives and find the best solutions.
- Go through your web code one more time and clean up redundancies.
We make hundreds of choices per day, and in 95% of them, we can always do the right thing if we put our mind to it.
The other 5% can be usually worked out by seeking out feedback from our teams or trusted advisors.
Always doing the right thing means when in doubt, get more opinions, and improve your leadership. It also means to communicate well and to keep everyone in the loop, be open-minded, react calmly, and treat people with respect.
It’s not rocket science. It is certainly closer to making a salad.
2. Learn With a Humble Mind
Keep an open mind, a beginner’s mind, and you will open the doors for better understanding, communication, and relationships as both a leader and as a team member. Listen, ask questions, and let your team help guide you in the right direction.
If you are moving to a new team or your pool of responsibilities is growing, you can carry over your existing leadership framework, but you will need time to soak in the nuances of your new responsibilities.
For example, if you are moving from assembly line optimization to supply chain streamlining, you can carry over a lot of the technical knowledge and continuous improvement practices. But you are moving from working on a project with a central hub to likely one with many hubs and broader dependencies.
Supply chains are fun. Take a t-shirt for example. Often the cotton is grown in one country like Egypt. The textile is made in another country like England. The t-shirt maker can be based in a third like Germany. The t-shirt can be sewn together in a fourth like Bangladesh. And the market can be in a fifth like the US.
Your assembly line gets stretched across cultures and continents. A lot of the rules of thumb are the same, but a lot of the variables are different. Allow for learning time, adjust for culture, and put people first.
This also applies to coming into a new team or managing a new team. You have to make adjustments for the company culture, learn the ins and outs of your people, and refine your leadership strategy to best serve your collective group.
3. Remember that One Size Fits One
Yes, you read that right, one size does not fit all. This adds complexity but builds relationships.
Take note of the styles of communication and preferred channels of the different people on your team and groups you interact with and adapt your own. Be open-minded and know when to take a step back to expand your perspective.
This goes for both internal and external stakeholders. Keep client files with detailed notes on what they like — and what they don’t.
The famous New York restaurateur Danny Meyer took this practice to the next level with his first restaurant Union Square Cafe.
His team took notes of all regulars and inputted them into the reservation system. Things like what dishes they have had and liked, do they have any allergies, do they like extra butter with their bread, what wine they like, and so on. Every time a regular returned, these notes were broadcasted to the team that would accommodate them.
This is the stuff of legendary success. The devil is in the details. And by following this practice for your team, you can become a better leader.
4. Set & Maintain a Reasonable Pace
Getting things done is important but it should not come at the cost of burning out your team.
Say you are ultra-progressive and want to continuously collect feedback and improve everyone’s day-to-day. You want to migrate systems and standardize processes. That is all good, but major shifts are disruptive and need to be paced.
Strive for marginal changes when possible. Think evolution rather than revolution.
Speed has its place but it needs a high degree of transparency and openness. Or you risk tripping and breaking something.
5. Create a Culture of Transparency
Another leadership tip is to emphasize the importance of open communication. Use multiple channels to communicate and record developments. Different people prefer to receive information in different ways so try to accommodate a broad spectrum.
Provide advanced notices and follow up on happenings.
Here is an example:
- Let your team know that at the next meeting, we will talk about how to make a salad.
- Prepare the recipe and instructions and send them in advance.
- Demonstrate on the meeting itself.
- Send a follow-up email with key takeaways.
- Post the recipe and the instructions in the internal wiki.
- Check-in over chat two days later if anyone has any follow-up questions or suggestions on how to improve the recipe.
This diligence fills in communication gaps and saves time. You are eliminating pockets of knowledge-hoarders and giving everyone the opportunity to participate. You are going to get more feedback and suggestions, and that will help you find the best solutions with optimal swiftness.
6. Take Communication to the Next Level
Conveying information to large groups is hard. And it takes hard work to achieve an above-average engagement rate for your team.
These are subtle bits and pieces that can help you improve your communication as a leader:
- Be humble but enthusiastic.
- Express calmness (calm smile, calm stare, calm tone, calm pace).
- Engage with humor when possible.
- Maintain interest with relatable examples — use more examples than theory.
- Go beyond the facts and create emotional bonds with your audience or team.
- Strive to reach a level of inclusion and trust.
- Aim to inspire, entertain, energize, and fascinate.
- Practice your presentations to improve flow.
The more well-rounded your communication style is, the more information will get across. The fewer mistakes will happen. The happier your team and clients will be.
7. Plan for Changes Outside of Your Control
In any business, there are going to be factors outside of your control that you, as a leader, have to navigate — not only for yourself, but for your team. This could be changes happening in the industry you work in, or changes happening within the company itself.
As a leader, you have to prepare for and mitigate these changes to keep your team running smoothly. And, not only that, but you have to communicate these changes swiftly and effectively to keep your team informed but still feeling secure and supported.
The only way you can really plan for change is by instilling a culture of flexibility and transparency within your team so when changes do arise, your team feels like you’re on their side and have their best interests at heart.
8. Allow for Differing Viewpoints
Groupthink is what happens when you discourage creativity or different opinions within your team and can lead to bad business practices and harmful decision-making.
To avoid this, encourage your team members to share when they disagree with a decision — whether it’s for a single project or for a larger initiative.
The larger the project or initiative, the more difficult it is to conclude it successfully based on a single perspective. You can likely make a salad on your own but you cannot build a spaceship.
This is where constructive feedback comes in. Encourage your team to share different viewpoints with other team members and with you as their leader. This will produce opinions, ideas, and conversations that have the power to unearth flows and suggest fixes.
This single practice can be your ultimate engine of growth. And when done right can take you to a place where you build more trust within your team and become a better leader.
9. Trust the Process & Grow
When you trust your team and tools and the way all pieces interact, you can do legendary things together.
This doesn’t mean to kick back and relax and let the invisible hand of commerce find its own equilibrium. It means that if you do most of the things above well, you can become a better leader with a team that succeeds. You will reach a level of comfort that will allow you to be even more proactive. And you will have the bandwidth to look for creative ways to drive growth.
This will open the doors to continuous efficiency, creativity, and measured risks that lay the foundation for sustainability and exponential growth.
Keep in mind the journey to becoming a better leader is a marathon, not a sprint. The more you apply these principles, the more you will learn. And the better you will get at understanding your environment and at empowering your team.
Again, here are the nine best ways to be a better manager and leader:
- Always Do the Right Thing
- Learn With a Humble Mind
- Remember that One Size Fits One
- Set & Maintain a Reasonable Pace
- Create a Culture of Transparency
- Take Communication to the Next Level
- Plan for Changes Outside of Your Control
- Allow for Differing Viewpoints
- Trust the Process & Grow
Whether you are making a salad or building a spaceship, be present. Leading a team or being a good steward to your resources is a game of courage and giving. Deliberate and mindful actions and transparent communication are key to creating an environment where you can trust the process in good and bad times. And reinforcing these two pillars leads to better solutions, better products, happier teams, and happier clients.
About the Author
Milen Vasilev is a manager of the LOCALiQ SEO team. He moved from New York to Texas in mid-2017 and shortly after joined the LOCALiQ website team. Before that, he was a copywriter and still enjoys writing the occasional blog post on topics he finds interesting. His guiding principles are: team first, continuous improvement, and embracing the spirit of challenge. When he is not keeping up with the ever-evolving SEO world, he likes watching sci-fi movies and going on long hikes.
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