By Sam Bahreini, Young Entrepreneur Council
Yes, leadership can be learned and practiced just like any other business skill.
The phrase “born leader” gets thrown around frequently, and it has led many people to erroneously assume that you either have what it takes to be a great leader or you don’t. In actuality, effective leadership is simply a combination of various skills and principles that can be learned and practiced just like any others.
You didn’t become a leader because you’re afraid of putting your nose to the grindstone for long hours. But everyone needs time away from work to recharge. Taking on too much without the aid of dedicated personal time can increase stress, inhibit creativity and potentially cause you to burn out.
You owe it to yourself, your stakeholders, your company and your employees to take care of yourself, and part of that means respecting your personal time when you have it. Spend time with your friends and family members when you can and learn what constitutes an actual emergency and what can wait until later.
A Dedication to Delegation
I’ve found that delegation is one of the trickiest skills to master, especially for people who are new to leadership positions. On the one hand, the reluctance to delegate frequently comes from an understandable place — they’ve been given new responsibilities and want to make sure things are handled correctly. However, taking the time and effort to learn when and how to delegate to your team is vital to the organization. Not only will it free you to focus on the things that only you can do, such as big-picture strategy, but it will also empower your employees to achieve great things.
Put your resources and effort into hiring people you can trust, because that’s exactly what delegation is all about. Prove to your employees that you trust them by letting them make important decisions, and more often than not they’ll reward your faith. For mission-critical decisions, it’s OK for you to get directly involved. When outcomes to everything else, let your teams do the jobs you hired them to do and stick to your own agenda.
Balancing Focus on the Big and the Small
Leadership is a constant push and pull between the big and the small. Great leaders have great vision. And in order to have great vision, you have to dream big. Great leaders also don’t neglect the small details in service of the big picture. They have to have a keen sense of what is happening throughout the organization at a foundational level in order to make sound strategic decisions. Think of leading a company as putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle. You have to know what picture you’re trying to recreate, but you also need to be able to see the individual pieces to understand how they interact.
Ignoring Illusive Rivalries
When you’re running a company, distractions come in many forms, including competition. But one characteristic that typically distinguishes outstanding leaders is they see their most fierce competition as themselves. In the book, Poised for Excellence: Fundamental Principles of Effective Leadership in the Boardroom and Beyond, Karima Mariama-Arthur writes: “To avoid battling phantom antagonists, leaders recognize that they are only ever competing against themselves. While leaders who embrace this principle create a customized path to success by ignoring the distraction of competition, they get to work as well. For even those competing against themselves will lose the race if unprepared for its rigor.” The strategy for addressing illusive rivalries is straightforward: Extraneous competition is a familiar aspect of business life. Instead of becoming obsessed with it, effective leaders pivot to command the very best of themselves. This shift in mindset also helps them to produce the best results for the organizations and institutions they serve.
Learning the Business From All Levels
The most effective leaders are insatiable learners. They are endlessly curious about causes and effects, how operations can be optimized and how the actions of their organization shape the experiences for everyone in its orbit. It’s great to be curious, especially when it comes to the inner workings of your own company.
The best way to learn as much as you can is to get firsthand experience. Spend time with your front-line employees and middle managers. Get a better understanding of the issues they face on a daily basis, so that you can be better equipped to improve the process both for them and your customers.
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