The question of how to be a leader is an endlessly fascinating topic.
I could parse out the different leadership styles and assess which ones suit our personalities. I could reflect on quotes from great leaders and contemplate ways to fold their thoughts into our daily lives. I could recommend signing up for seminars, reading self-help books and mentoring the up-and-coming leaders of the future.
But before we go playing around with nitpicky details, I should make sure you understand the basics of how to be a leader.
Let's start with the most basic level: How do you define leadership?
When you think about it, leadership is more complex than we often realize. It's not just being a person who is admired, though that may be part of it. It's also being the person who can drive a team to achieve results. It's inspiring people to achieve more, to work to their potential.
But that's not all leadership is. Leadership is also teaching, coaching and passing along knowledge. Leadership is ensuring that problems are solved. Leadership is steering the ship, setting the goals and making sure they're achieved. When you think about how to be a leader, you're pulling together many different components and aspects of being an entrepreneur.
For homework, I encourage you to come up with your own definition of leadership. Jot down all the things that matter to you and write a couple of sentences that get at the heart of what you want to achieve as a leader.
The following leadership basics can all be part of discovering what being a leader means for you.
1. Look at the big picture.
Whether you employ one person or one thousand, as the leader of your company, you're responsible for steering the ship.
You choose the destination.
You keep an eye out for obstacles.
You assemble the crew that can get you there.
When you think about how to be a leader, try to keep the big picture in mind.
2. Know when to let go and delegate.
Yes, you're in charge. Yes, the buck stops with you, and you're the captain of the ship. But you can't personally control everything. In fact, part of seeing the big picture is zooming out from all the details. (An aside: This is true for life, as well as business.)
You don't have to be everything to everyone. You've hired great staff, and part of leadership is delegating. If you're overwhelmed by details, you're doing instead of leading.
3. Empower your staff by teaching them, instead of taking over.
For me, a big part of leadership is being a coach or a teacher—I want to help my staff achieve their potential and grow, developing new skills along the way.
When I started my first company, I thought rolling up my sleeves was how to be a leader. I'd get in the trenches and work right alongside my employees.
The problem was that I wasn't really leading. I was doing. My staff wasn't learning as much as they could have if I'd stepped back and let them get their hands dirty. Empowering your staff is a critical part of leadership.
If you're doing the work, you're not teaching your staff, and if you're not teaching your staff, you're not going to have time to accomplish real leadership tasks like figuring out systems that make your company run more efficiently.
Train, teach, guide, coach, encourage…that's how to be a leader.
4. Reward your employees' success.
A big part of leadership is finding ways to motivate your staff, and that can be a challenging task since people are motivated by different factors. But the best leaders I've ever known take the time to figure out what each employee needs.
Some employees want praise. Some want money. Some want to be challenged. Some want to be nurtured. If you observe your staff and implement reward or incentive structures that hit a variety of motivating factors, you may find greater success in moving your team toward the goal.
You do what you do because it's your company. Your staff isn't in the same position. Learning how to be a leader means finding meaningful ways to reward success and motivate your staff.
5. Connect company goals with personal goals.
One of my favorite aspects of leadership is the opportunity to mentor my staff. I love the challenge of helping them determine what matters to them and make plans for their futures.
Connecting company goals with my employees' personal goals is one way I've found to motivate my staff. The bonus is it moves the company toward my desired outcomes, and it helps my staff grow as well.
Let's say I have a sales person whose ultimate goal is to start her own company (in a different, non-competitive industry, of course). If I can help her understand that success with my company can help her gain critical experience, skills and credibility that will further her career, then her excellence is a win for both of us.
Learning how to be a leader is a process, but it begins with fundamentals. Knowing what leadership means to you is the first step—understanding the basics can help you refine your leadership skills over the course of your career.
Read more articles on leadership skills.