Being a leader is hard. If you struggle in a position where you’re affecting change, making decisions, and managing employees, learn from those who are already doing it well. Instead of harping on yourself, or running away from a great position, use these executive leadership ideas to get better.
With each task you delegate, every employee you empower, and each moment of self-reflection, you’ll find yourself becoming the leader you always knew you could be.
Hone Your Emotional Intelligence
"Leadership performance relies heavily on emotional intelligence,” suggests Sanjay Malhotra, CTO of Clearbridge Mobile. Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognize, control and express your own emotions, while handling your relationships—including those with employees and co-workers—with empathy and good judgement.
For leaders, this can be challenging. In a high-stress role, it’s easy to “lose your cool” or let demands from leaders higher than you roll down onto employees. That’s why Malhotra suggests practicing self-reflection:
“Leaders who actively practice self-reflection can better identify their positive moods and leverage them to drive organizational change. At the same time, emotionally intelligent leaders can identify how positive moods may cause them to be overly optimistic about what can be accomplished.”
If you can’t make time for this self-reflection every day, start with a smaller ask: one reflection time each week, allowing you to better understand how your mood or emotions are affecting your decisions and ideas. You’ll become a better leader, and learn more about how to improve yourself, at the same time.
Nancy Cramer, founder of Correct Course Consulting, shared an example of this:
“I had a client who habitually responded to boring presentations with a sour look on her face. Someone spotted it in a meeting and told her that she was ‘wearing her feelings on her sleeve.’ She came to me and we developed a unique mix of emotions that we called, ‘Poker Face.’ Then, we gave her an easy way to access this emotional state, without having to think about it. Now, she can allow others to finish their presentations without offending them. She has just the right amount of curiosity to look for leadership opportunities in the most mundane situations.”
As you self-reflect, think about small comments that have been made to you, like Cramer’s client. Instead of writing them off, ask yourself: Why am I doing that? How is it affecting my leadership?
Lead With the “Why”
“Why are we doing what we are doing, why do we come here every morning, and if we didn't, why would anybody care?” Those are the questions Zach Hendrix, Co-Founder of GreenPal, asks himself regularly. The questions, and more importantly, the answers, are how he keeps his team of 12 focused motivated every single day.
“Ask any member of our team those three questions and they can answer them definitively with the reasons and that's how I lead and galvanize us to action,” says Hendrix. When leading in this way, you tap into a critical aspect of successful leadership: passion. Not just within yourself, but within your employees who are doing the work day in and day out.
This is especially important in a startup or small business environment, where employees are wearing many different hats and weathering treacherous storms, all while staying focused on driving growth. When the “why” is clear to everyone, starting with leadership, it’s easier to push through the hard times because there’s a reason for doing it.
Empower Your Employees
“Great leadership means empowering people to be successful—that is ultimately what grows businesses,” suggests Scott Miraglia, President of Elevation Marketing. “Once you’ve done all of the hard work in the beginning, you must be okay with handing off bits and pieces of leadership to people who are going to help you grow.”
For most leaders, this is easier said than done. Especially if you founded the company, putting in long-nights, straining your relationships, and likely even tying yourself to the business financially. Yet, if letting go is crucial to being a good leader, why do most still have a hard time doing it?
“Often, when a person is running a business they may think that their method is the best way to do it and never think to ask for advice. Or, they might ask for advice but never actually take it,” says Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com.
While it’s hard to release that control, your focus must be on the high-level business concerns and decisions. Set yourself up for success by recruiting the right people and then empowering them to do what they do best—the job you’ve hired them for—while you do the same.
“Hire the right people and give them and individual vision for themselves, as well as a company vision, so they are empowered to carry out the role with confidence,” says Miraglia. He uses this practice himself now.
He stays in the driver seat by personally recruiting talent: “I do all of the initial pre-screening and interviewing so that I am comfortable passing the torch and delegating the responsibilities. For every 20 people I interview, only 1 moves forward in the process.”
Focus On Endurance and Rest
“Building a company is like running a marathon, not a high-speed race,” says Elena Carstoiu, co-founder and COO of Hubgets. As a leader, you know this all too well. While employees may easily walk away from their desk, turn off their work-brain, and enjoy an evening at home, you’re constantly under the pressure of deadlines, board requests, and high-level decision making, all of which is both stressful and exhausting.
When you let this constant chatter in your mind to take over, your leadership suffers. Carstoiu shares her experience: “While running my own ‘marathon,’ I’ve noticed that my mind was always focused on the business. Unsurprisingly, my inability to completely disconnect eventually got to me. The thing with fatigue is that it alters your performance and the entire decision-making process. So it's very important to take action as soon as you see it slowly creeping in.”
This is often referred to as “leadership fatigue,” and there are many ways to combat it. John Manning, author of, The Disciplined Leader, shares a few suggestions:
- Recognize it: You can’t combat it if you don’t know it’s happening. Look for this during moments of self-reflection.
- Create a simple plan to address the stress: Can you delegate more? Do you need to take a step back?
- Find the right mindset: “You can’t control everything happening to you as a leader, but you can control your mindset and the degree to which you commit to your plan to fight against burnout,” says Manning.
Create a Sense of Inclusivity
“I find that team members who feel like an integral piece of the puzzle are more motivated to succeed,” says Jennifer McDermott, Head of Communications at finder.com. As a leader, you can facilitate this in many ways.
For example, at finder, “our financials are completely laid bare every week at our company wide operational meeting. This gives the team an innate sense of the business objectives, and how they as individuals are actively contributing to achieving these,” explains McDermott. Part of empowering your team, and driving that sense of inclusivity, is showing them the “behind the scenes” so they know why they work as hard as they do—and can celebrate the results along with you.
The team at finder has another unique way of driving this inclusivity and encouraging employees to be part of the overall picture: an open ideas forum.
McDermott says, “I try to foster an environment that encourages ideas from all levels of the business. Recognizing that some team members are naturally more forthcoming with ideas than others, we have facilitated events that prompt people to think outside of the box such as our weekly challenge; a creative problem solving task everyone is encouraged to enter.”
If you’re a larger enterprise, take this inclusivity a step further, encouraging employees to innovate in ways that will impact the business as a whole. For finder, this is their Hack Day, a global initiative that takes place during a 41-hour period:
“People team up with colleagues across the world, to brainstorm, develop and launch innovations that they believe will move our business forward. Despite having only run for two years so far, we’ve already seen a number of ideas implemented as a result.” In this way, not only are you a better leader, but the business grows as well.
Learn From the Best, Become the Best
Leadership isn’t about making all the decisions and figuring it out on your own. It’s about releasing control, empowering employees, honing in on how your emotions affect others, and knowing when to step back and get some rest. Learn from these leaders who are implementing successful strategies already. Adapt them into your own unique leadership style, and watch your employees and business evolve.