As we approach the close of a difficult year, the first thing I’ll ask you to do is give yourself a pat on the back for making it through. Sure, you may have dropped a stitch or two as you struggled to find your footing as clients canceled jobs and the ground gave way beneath your feet.
This is a scary time for Freelance consultants and business owners, including those who steward multi-million dollar corporate enterprises. Those who’ve managed to hang on and find a way to either pivot or turn a corner and rebuild are to be congratulated.
Regardless of your circumstances, periodically assessing your leadership capabilities will always bring you to a better place, professionally and personally. One’s leadership ability is the foundation of not only decision-making that helps to successfully guide your business through the storm but also to rally the team to shore up confidence and productivity.
How you say what you say
Good communication is a hallmark of an effective leader. Knowing how to connect with, empathize and inspire the team are essential competencies. A leader depends on the team, because they are the folks needed to achieve the goals and support the leader’s, and the company’s, success.
Team members are highly attuned to their leader’s style of communication. It really is not so much what you say, as how you say it. We all have an inborn communication style and when we are mindful, we can refine that style and make it more effective. One method of communicating company goals is to use storytelling.
Express the goal and key elements involved in its achievement as a story, if not an adventure. Share with the team why the goal is important, what it means to the company’s survival and stature and how the company (and by extension its employees) will benefit. Communicate your excitement about being chosen to participate in achieving the goal. Emphasize your confidence in the ability of team members to take the ball and run with it.
As well, allow team members to add their viewpoints and give voice to their questions, doubts and/or what some may feel as innovative ways to get the job done. In other words, demonstrate your respect and reinforce mutual trust. Barking orders and demanding performance damages morale and is rarely effective in the long run.
Listen to the team
Team members should feel comfortable speaking with you, their leader, both on the record and off the record. What you hear may occasionally make you wince, but at the end of the day you’ll feel empowered because you are trusted and that means you are held in high esteem. There is no better compliment.
Share credit and be a cheerleader
If you want to get the most out of team members, be generous with your compliments and praise. Do that and they’ll go to the ends of the earth to make you proud of them. Remember that you stand on their shoulders. Be generous with your sincere appreciation and respect for their skills and dedication.
Be willing to learn
Learning how to learn will improve any aspect of life, professional or personal. Adapting to change and understanding whether it would be the best gamble to tweak, pivot, or batten down the hatches and stay the course requires an understanding of current and anticipated marketplace forces and that understanding is acquired through updated knowledge.
Successful leaders use their industry intel to anticipate strategies that may be needed to maintain market share and profitability. Read regularly about what products are on the horizon in your industry and their potential impact as a whole and your organization in particular. Do new products, or new policies or new companies, represent an opportunity or a challenge?
Coach and mentor
While on a path to increase your own learning, encourage team members to do the same and enable the process. At least twice a year, schedule a skills building workshop, preferably facilitated by an outside expert.
If you notice that there are areas of struggle, have a private nonjudgmental and encouraging talk to investigate the root of the problem and set up a confidential remedial plan. For those at the top of their game, privately discuss career goals and paths to promotions. Remember that those you promote will become your best allies at the organization.
Own your mistakes
When you drop the ball, acknowledge and apologize. Nothing quite undermines the reputation of a leader like dodging culpability and responsibility. It’s humbling and it doesn’t feel good, but owning up never fails to enhance a leader’s credibility—-and credibility is what leadership is all about.
Thanks for reading,
Photograph: Elizabeth II leaves Westminster Abbey after her coronation as queen of Great Britain and the British Empire on June 2, 1953.