The Impact of Leadership
Effective leadership skills can spell the difference between a skyrocketing career and professional implosion.
As a subordinate, it’s easy to tell a great leader from a dud. The great leader inspires and encourages growth. Even though every organization hits bumps in the road, under a good leader, goals are met and morale is strong.
In our roles as leaders, life becomes blurred. We have objectives, goals and deadlines, and are tasked with making things happen. We do our best. Sometimes we hit a home run. But at other times, the best intentions can lead to disastrous results. Staff frustration grows, quality plummets and morale is in the tank.
Some factors will always remain beyond our control. The weather, death, taxes, and the occasional impossible client will be with us always. But the difference between wild success and dismal failure often rests on day-to-day things that can seem trivial, but which pack a huge cumulative impact. And as leaders, these are totally within our control.
Effective leadership means managing yourself. Actions and reactions set the stage for staff responsiveness and activity. Consider the following five guidelines for effective leadership:
- Ask, don’t demand. There are at least two benefits from taking the softer approach. Emotionally, “Can you give me this report by Tuesday?” is less abrasive than “Get me this report by Tuesday!” Your staff knows you are the boss; it doesn’t have to be flaunted with every interaction. Secondly, asking opens the door for dialog. You may discover that your staff has ideas for improving the report or the process, or they have questions that have an impact on your decisions.
- When things get tough, step back. Our natural impulse is to double down when things get tough. We push harder, and tensions and blood pressures skyrocket. Mistakes proliferate and resentment seethes below the surface. Hard lines are drawn in the sand. It’s “My way or the highway.” The harder we push, the worse it gets, until finally the proposal is delivered, or the presentation made. The goal is reached, over the bloodied bodies of angry staff members. Instead, consider stepping back. Take a deep breath. Take the risk and take time to band together. Release some of the pressure. Work together to plot the most effective way to get to the goal, and act purposefully. Your staff is the goose that lays the golden eggs. Don’t kill the goose.
- Avoid sarcasm. Sarcasm isn’t funny. Sarcasm is passive-aggressive. Your snide comment might be funny to you, but most likely is tolerable at best and infuriating at worst to everyone else. Sarcasm diminishes your professionalism. The disclaimer, “Oh, I was just kidding,” does nothing to retract your statement. And the corollaries, “Can’t you take a joke?” or, “Lighten up.” are arrogant and compound perceptions of your insensitivity.
- Know your impact. You are the big gear at the top of the machine. As you make a small turn, in the form of a new directive or new direction, the next layer of gears must work harder. The impact is compounded at each level, until the gears or staff at the bottom, who are implementing the change, are whirling at a breakneck pace, trying to fulfill your directive. Your casual thought can have a huge cost in time, resources and political capital. Don’t be the leader everyone resents because they’re racing to keep up with your whims. Lead thoughtfully and move forward purposefully and strategically.
- Be last. A leader is not there for everyone to serve; a leader is there to serve others. Your job is to ensure your customers are served with the best you can provide. And your job is to ensure that your staff members are supported with all they need to serve your customers. When things go wrong, the buck stops with you. And when there are accolades to hand out, these first and foremost go to your staff. The effective leader is the last person to take credit.
Position Yourself for Success
Leadership is the art of coordinating a team to accomplish results. Anyone can be a dictator, pushing for the impossible, berating, humiliating threatening and insulting staff members into producing results. But this is not leadership. The best and brightest employees do not, and will not accept this abuse. The result is constant turnover and significant costs, both financially and in lost productivity. Staff members who remain find their best chance for survival is to do as told, and no more. There is no incentive to be engaged when the real agenda is nurturing the ego of the leader. The organization cannot afford to tolerate an ineffective leader.
Effective leadership is set in everyday actions. It is sincere and constant, an intrinsic part of the individual. Consider your leadership style, and its impact. And set your style for success for your organization and your career.