In today’s fast-changing world, there’s a growing demand for capable and effective leaders. In business, we look for executives who can successfully lead the company into the future.
Yet, when we stop and reflect on the individuals who’ve truly inspired us to grow, improve and achieve more in our lives, we realize that leadership is not limited to just the highest levels.
Informal leaders often have a significant impact on both individuals and organizations. So what we need today are effective leaders at all levels of our organizations, whether they are executives, managers or simply informal leaders.
To better understand what it takes to be an effective leader, let’s start with a simple definition: Leadership is the process of influencing others toward a common goal. We know from our own experience that this is exactly what effective leaders do. They inspire us to act in ways that will achieve the shared goal. But how do some managers motivate so effectively while others do not?
When we examine management activities, we see that they produce order and consistency through actions such as budgeting, staffing and problem-solving. Management activities tend to focus on the past and present, and have low emotional involvement, with a focus only on the task.
On the other hand, when we examine leadership activities, we see how they produce change and movement through setting direction, aligning people with goals, motivating them and inspiring them. Leadership activities have a future orientation with an emotional involvement that generates enthusiasm in others.
To successfully run a business, both management skills and leadership skills are required in a balanced way. However, it’s typically easier to learn successful management skills than effective leadership skills. What is it, then, that effective leaders need to do?
* Articulate an inspiring vision of the future. Because leaders influence others toward a common goal, they must able to clearly describe an aim that’s exciting and challenging. Through open dialogue, they should clarify the future direction and the benefits it will bring.
* Lead by example. Effective leaders walk the talk. They’re not afraid to be out in front, showing by example what it takes to reach the common goal.
* Create trust with followers. By sharing their vision of the future in ways that are inspiring and motivating, leaders reveal their emotions more openly. This openness, combined with walking the talk, will create a bond of trust with followers.
* Have high expectations for followers.. Leaders know that achieving the common goal may not be easy, and they realize that everyone will have to stretch their capabilities to achieve the goal together. Setting the bar high will motivate followers to grow and achieve more.
* Challenge the process. The best leaders understand that “the way we’ve always done things around here” may not allow the company to reach a common goal. As a result, they’re ready and willing to change the system and engage followers in the process of change.
* Adjust style to meet follower needs. Truly effective leaders know how to continually adjust their leadership actions to match their followers’ degree of ability and willingness. As followers improve performance, leadership style needs to move from telling followers what to do, to mentoring and persuading them, then to encouraging and facilitating their actions, and finally to simply entrusting them and monitoring their progress.
Successful leaders are found at all levels of an organization. They’re effective because they are able to influence others to work together to achieve common goals.
Understanding and applying these characteristics used by successful leaders can help each of us become more effective as we also try to influence others, whether we’re formal or informal leaders..
Barry Barnes is a professor of management at the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship at Nova Southeastern University, where he teaches leadership and strategic decision-making. Prior to entering the academic world, he worked in management for 20 years. Reach him at [email protected] or (800) 672-7223.