Before you became an entrepreneur, did you ever work for someone who didn’t know how to be a leader? I’m sure you did—we all have.
Incompetent or abusive leaders are a problem, both for their employees and for their organizations. A leader’s lack of people skills can result in high employee absenteeism and turnover, lower sales, poor customer service, infighting among employees and departments, and the determination by employees to do the minimum amount of work necessary to get their paychecks.
Bad or incompetent leaders come in all varieties. Some are domineering, some are lazy, and some are just plain dumb. On the other hand, great leaders exhibit a variety of positive qualities. They are decisive, empathetic, fair-minded, and loyal to the people who work for them. In this article, I’m going to focus on a simple axiom that encompasses what every leader needs to understand. And, to be honest, this has been my greatest challenge in being a good leader. It’s this:
To lead them, you need to love them.
By “love them,” I don’t mean you should date your employees. In fact, that’s a very bad idea and will land you in legal trouble—so don’t do it. What I’m talking about is getting to know your people and valuing what makes them unique. They won’t follow you if they don’t believe you respect them, understand them, and can help them get what they want.
Your People Want to You to Be a Great Leader
Here’s a secret: Your employees want you to be an effective and inspiring leader. They don’t want you to be wishy-washy, vague, hard to communicate with, or too willing to follow every little change in the winds of business. Neither do they want to you to be overbearing, moody, personally offensive, or a micro-manager. Think back to when you were an employee at a job. I’ll bet you wanted certain things from your boss.
- Honesty. No one wants a boss who doesn’t tell the truth, whether it’s good or bad. To do their jobs well, your employees need reliable, valid information. Ideally, they should get it in real time, and not in dribbles from memos you send to their inboxes. Your employees want to know when they’ve made mistakes and how to get back on track. You owe them this, every day.
- Empathy. Everyone makes mistakes. You’ve probably had the experience of messing up on the job and having your boss yell at you—perhaps even in front of your co-workers. Did this make you want to work harder for the company? I’ll bet it didn’t. Your employees must get the message that you’re not a machine and neither are they, and that human beings have feelings that can either motivate them to succeed or discourage them. In order to be an effective leader you must let your employees know that while you have high standards, you value your employees as people.
- Vision. Your employees want to know why they’re doing what they’re doing. Yes, they’re earning a paycheck, but that’s never at the top of the list of reasons why people love their jobs. What people look for—and what you must provide—is a greater context for why you’re in business. Author Simon Sinek says, “If you hire people because they need a job, they will work for your money, but if you hire people that believe in what you do they will work with blood sweat and tears.” Effective leaders know how to influence followers with vision.
Every business exists to solve a problem for its customers.
Restaurants feed people. Shoe companies protect their customers’ feet. Toy companies provide happiness. Homebuilders provide safe and comfortable shelter.
What does your company do to make the lives of your customers better? And more importantly, why do you do it? In my own company, Texas Black Expo Inc., the answer is easy: We provide programs and training to develop startup businesses, expand existing businesses, and inspire other to start.
Why? We believe that everyone should be empowered to choose their own destiny. I would like to think that everyone who works with us knows what we’re trying to do, and I do my very best to communicate our vision at every opportunity.
Succeeding in business is as much about creating good relationships as it is about the numbers and data. The stronger your relationships with those following you, the stronger their desire to help you succeed.
Being Ready for Leadership
Most people can’t become effective leaders overnight. Leadership skills can take time to develop. There must be an awareness of the unique skills required when you hold a position of leadership. Too many would-be leaders think that by just working hard they can become leaders. Nothing is further from the truth. Too often, such people focus on their own skill sets. They concentrate on getting an M.B.A. or their ability to make financial projections. They assume these things will make them successful leaders because people want to follow successful people, right?
Not exactly. Leadership is its own breed. It has very little to do with technical skills and much more to do with people skills. If you don’t have the people skills, you won’t be an effective leader. It takes time to develop leadership skills. One common pitfall to avoid is trying to assert your leadership before you’re ready, or before the organization is ready. This is another lesson I have had to learn the hard way. Here’s an example of someone who was not ready for leadership. John was new to the company and the CEO took a liking to him. She told him that he had the potential to one day be the CEO himself. He got pumped. He was fired up. The following week at the annual sales conference, John started spouting off about what he’d do if he were in charge of a certain division within the company. Pretty soon the buzz was that this loudmouth kid was an arrogant you-know-what.
Guess what? John damaged his leadership prospects in that company. All because he wasn’t ready to lead, and worse, he violated the Love Them and Lead Them recommended order for creating leadership success:
- Create a magnetic brand. Put something with value behind your leadership.
- Understand the psychology of amazing leaders. Learn the skills.
- Communicate and connect effectively. Have empathy for those around you.
- Build phenomenal influence. Remember that trust is a precious commodity.
Many leaders fall into leadership by accident, and sometimes they simply get baptized by fire. In the example above, the new executive just got a little ahead of himself because he was excited that a bigwig noticed his “potential.” Remember, potential means nothing if you don’t follow up with the right approach, attitude, and work ethic.
You can be the most successful person in the room, but if no one on your team likes or respects you, or more importantly, listens to you, you’re not going to be leading anybody.
Leadership is not about getting people to do what you want them to do. It’s about showing them what they want to do and giving them the tools to do it.