Building your leadership skills

While watching Steve Jobs launch the latest Apple product or listening to Barack Obama talk about his vision for a future America, it is easy to imagine that their leadership skills come naturally.

In fact, most successful leaders recognize that cultivating leadership skills is an important and ongoing journey. Just as professional artists must practice and experiment to develop and improve their artistic skills, so must leaders to acquire and improve their leadership abilities.

Skills for successful business leaders

People who assert themselves as business leaders tend to follow a similar pattern of action. Leaders:

  1. Set a vision for the future of their companies
  2. Communicate the vision to all employees
  3. Design and implement motivational strategies to achieve this vision.
  4. Undertake to continually inspire, encourage, and support those in the organization in pursuit of this vision

Successful businesses continually:

  • Reinforce their vision of the future.
  • Find new ways to motivate and encourage employees in the achievement of this vision.
  • Tune into the forces that might require a change of direction.

Key leadership tasks for success

Setting the vision

Setting the vision is one of the most important leadership functions. A vision is an image of the future that forms the basis for the plans and actions of your team, and it inspires your employees in their work.

Creating an exciting, ambitious vision for the future of your company—something that will inspire all your employees and interest them in working hard to achieve—is the first step in effective leadership in an entrepreneurial business.

Communicating the vision

The next hurdle is to clearly communicate your vision to everyone in the company. Use some of the creativity that drives your entrepreneurship to find a compelling, inspirational way to communicate your vision. The expected result of successfully communicating your vision is that everyone in the company will understand and be able to explain the vision to new hires, or anyone outside of the company. These employees, when understanding the vision, are brand ambassadors.

Motivating employees

Another important leadership function includes developing a strong set of strategies to motivate employees.

Small start-up companies often don’t have the financial resources to offer competitive salaries, big bonuses, and other dollar-based work incentives. Entrepreneurs must implement creative ways to motivate their teams to do exceptional work to achieve the company vision.

Recognition, special awards, and other non-monetary incentives can help drive your team to achieve great things without breaking the bank.

Remember that employees are also motivated by the attitudes and behaviour of their leader. A leader who isn’t committed to working hard risks a lack of commitment and hard work from their team, so practice what you preach.

Inspire, encourage, and support your team

Working at a startup is high-stress, hard work with a payoff that can take many years to achieve. Your employees will need ongoing encouragement, support, and inspiration in order to continue to perform well. Keeping this in mind and staying on top of team sentiments will help ensure that your team perseveres and goes the extra mile.

Fine-tuning your leadership skills

The following tips will help you fine-tune the key elements of your leadership toolset:

  1. Get a mentor. Bouncing ideas off someone who already holds a leadership position can do wonders for enhancing your own leadership insight and can supply helpful ideas on how to tweak your leadership behaviours.
  2. Read. While the world is full of business books on many topics, not everything in business can be learned through books. Fortunately, when it comes to leadership skills, reading a good book on leadership is one of the absolute best ways to advance your expertise. Some of the best writers on leadership include John P. Kotter, Warren Bennis, and Peter F. Drucker.
  3. Connect with your peers. Joining a peer-to-peer network can provide different outlooks about how to communicate with your employees, inspire them and motivate great work performance.
  4. Review yourself. By periodically conducting a 360-degree review of your own work and abilities, you’ll have a better idea where your leadership strengths lie, and what you can do to improve. Continually checking your assumptions against what your employees and co-workers think about your skills and abilities is a great eye-opener and can offer helpful insight into your leadership strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Work with a coach. As a leader, it can be hard to work with someone who will point out your flaws to made you a better leader. However, a good coach won’t manage you and tell you how to do your job. Instead, they’ll work with you to help you develop your skills to become a more effective leader.

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