Last night, during a podcast interview, I was asked my best advice for being a great leader. I shared a few ideas and then chewed on it long after the interview concluded. I’ve had the privilege to be led by some incredible people, but have also been exposed to some really toxic leadership. Thankfully, even those people teach you a great deal, most specifically what you don’t want to emulate or model. As a business owner and entrepreneur, I’ve gained some insight (sometimes the hard way) into ways we can practically develop as a leader. Here are 10 steps you can implement to move your needle toward the exceptional leader category:

  1. Surround yourself with great leaders. Who are you looking to for counsel and example? You can learn from leaders both near and far. Certainly you want to seek out a personal mentor. I also highly suggest an executive coach who will pour into you so you can pour into others. Follow great leaders by researching them – read their books, watch their shows, listen to their interviews. What advice can you glean without even meeting personally? For example, Sara Blakely, founder and CEO of Spanx is a female entrepreneur and businesswoman who I admire. I love the culture she has created at Spanx, along with the way she personally leads from a place of transparency. Because of this, I have consumed every single thing I can in order to glean advice, wisdom and experience from Sara. Do I know her personally? No. (Fingers crossed that will change one day.) Just because she and I aren’t connected, doesn’t mean I can’t surround myself with her leadership and learn.
  2. Invest in your continued professional development. Read leadership books. (May I suggest an Audible or LeaderBooks subscription?) Attend webinars, conferences and classes that educate and inform. Listen to podcasts, read articles, watch interviews. Never stop learning.
  3. Know your limitations. Draw boundaries on the amount of people you can lead well and effectively.
  4. Care for your people outside of the office. Your People Should Be Your Number One Priority. I must be a servant to my team if I’m going to lead them well. Take them to lunch. Give them a random day off. Treat them to a day at the spa. Pay them as much as possible. Monitor their bandwidth. Ask their opinions on major business decisions. Provide professional development training. Incentivize them. Ask about their weekend. Celebrate their birthday. Show them that they matter to you. If you care for them, they will care for your business.
  5. Lead the person, not the team. You cannot (I, repeat cannot) lead every single employee the same. What motivates one will not another. The way one learns is not the way another does. Some relish praise and others are mortified by it. One may be a visual learner while another isn’t. Invest the time to know each member well and then lead individually.
  6. Believe in them before they believe in themselves. Determine the potential in your team member and then share your observations specifically. Make yourself available regularly and consistently and map out a plan on how to help them grow.
  7. Provide opportunities for skin in the game. Ask their opinions on major decisions. Cast vision and then sit back and absorb their thoughts before you act. Confirm that their voice matters.
  8. Model collaboration instead of competition. Create a culture where a win for one is a win for all. Reward them for showcasing this behavior.
  9. Operate in your sweet spot 80% of the time. What can only you do? Prioritize your days around those activities where you are good at what you’re doing (really good) and take much enjoyment from it. You should reside in that intersection of success and enthusiasm, what I call your sweet spot, the majority of the time. Delegate or delete the remainder.
  10. Protect the person publicly, correct the behavior privately. Always give the benefit of the doubt and defend your team. One on one, discuss lessons learned, changes to be made and expectations moving forward.

I’m constantly adding to this list. My desire is to continue my learning and development as a leader (note number two above). In order to do that I have to regularly evaluate what I’m doing well and where I’m falling short. Paying close attention to great leadership examples and modeling for my team what my own expectations are for them certainly help. I don’t want to just be a strong leader, I want to be an effective one. What would you add to this list? I’d love to hear from you.


    AUTHOR: Heather Adams
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