MaRS Library 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 exercise. Just as professional artists must practice and experiment to develop and improve their artistic skills, so must leaders work 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:
- Set a vision for the future of their companies,
- Communicate the vision to all employees.
- Design and implement motivational strategies in order to achieve this vision.
- Undertake to continually inspire, encourage and support those in their 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 followers 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 your company. Use some of the creativity that drives your entrepreneurship to find a compelling, inspirational way to communicate your vision to your employees. The expected result of successfully communicating your vision to your team is that everyone in your company should understand and be able to explain the vision to new hires.
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 at his or her company risks a lack of commitment and hard work from his or her 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:
- 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 toolset.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.