Unless you’re truly a one-person operation – an increasingly rare breed in this networked world – there will inevitably come a time when you are called upon to lead in both your business and beyond.
It’s a challenge that can’t be shirked but very much a test that can be failed.
Some leaders are born of course but most are made, building themselves up to their full potential one painful learning process at a time. Save yourself some time along the path to becoming a better leader by taking a trip through the 10 tips to lead from the front below.
- Never, ever give up.
For a man fond of champagne for breakfast, Winston Churchill still managed to put together a considerable list of achievements throughout his life as one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century – all of them fuelled by his core conviction that quitting is simply not an option.
His philosophy was admirably summed up in a 1941 address to the students of Harrow School during some of the darkest hours of WWII:
“Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
That same refusal to buckle under the weight of circumstances and forces ranged against you is the hallmark of all great business leaders.
Whether with Thomas Edison persisting through 10,000 botched attempts to build the perfect light bulb, or Henry Ford’s willingness to pick himself back up after a slew of initial high-profile failures, the leadership lesson is clear – never give up.
- Develop an adamantine exterior.
Leadership is fundamentally about decision making and not all of those decisions will be to everyone’s taste.
In order to make the best decision for you and your team, you’re going to simply have to develop a thick skin to battle through potential criticism.
Attacks on your leadership are part of the price to be paid for being granted the ability to make the decisions in the first place. It’s a sad fact of life that many of these attacks will often be personal in nature so building up that rugged exterior is a key part of being able to power on without losing focus.
- Bring on talent
Without a great team to back it up, leadership is simply a lone voice shouting into the wind.
A huge part of any leader’s job is creating that team by systematically fostering and rewarding talent throughout their organisation.
The better the team is, the easier the leader’s job is as they know they can simply make a decision and it will be successfully executed.
Talent spotting is at the core of long-term leadership success so make it part of your job to find the bright sparks early and encourage their development.
- Never be satisfied
The perfect is rightly said to be the enemy of the good but that doesn’t mean that leaders should rest on their laurels and accept results that are merely adequate.
A great leader is driven by a relentless desire to iteratively improve and spreads that desire through all aspects of their organisation.
For a perfect example of this quality in action, witness Steve Jobs’ willingness to go back to the drawing board again and again with his designers until the product truly matched his vision.
- Park your fears at the door.
As your career progresses, so the size and seriousness of the challenges you will be called on to face on behalf of your team will naturally increase.
Regardless of how your stomach may be churning on the inside, fear simply cannot be shown externally.
Whether it’s Elon Musk’s ability to look potential disaster in the eye by essentially risking bankruptcy to juggle the demands of SpaceX and Tesla, or Richard Branson’s willingness to take on a hugely powerful incumbent in British Airways, great leaders know when it’s time to stare down their fears and take the decisions that have to be made.
- Acknowledge your mistakes
Infallibility as a leadership principle really needs to remain the preserve of popes rather than business leaders.
Mistakes will inevitably happen under your watch and all good leaders know that the buck ultimately stops with them.
Act swiftly, never throw your team under the bus and move quickly to take public ownerships of mistakes and put in processes to make sure they aren’t repeated.
Witness Tim Cook’s willingness to personally apologise for initially poor releases of Apple Maps early in his career as CEO for a great example of this leadership trait in action.
- Toughen up
The idea of a rugged business leader over-employing martial metaphors and bandying around quotations from The Art of War may be a cliched one these days but there is no denying that business is often a fight.
There are real competitors to be tackled out there in the marketplace and their aim is often to wipe out your company. The means they choose to do so may often not be exactly fair either.
The top of the tree is no place for shrinking violets so if you are going to effectively lead your team, you’d better start toughening up.
- Master the human element
We’ve talked of the need for toughness and discipline so far but there is also a suite of softer skills you will also have to master and deploy.
Connecting empathically with those you are leading is a non-negotiable skill to have in the modern world of business.
The days of senior managers leading exclusively by fear are starting to recede. Outsize results are driven by your team actually wanting to do their best for you on a personal basis. Make sure you connect.
- Keep the vision pure
Leaders are chosen to define a vision and execute on it. That vision needs to be crystal clear in order to get buy-in across the board.
Don’t fall victim to the modern trend of sheltering behind incomprehensible, jargon-filled vagueness. Make it simple to state and actionable.
Think of Bill Gates’ famous vision of “a computer in every home.” Or Google’s oft-repeated mission to “organise the world’s information and make it globally accessible and useful.”
- Passion drives results
To truly lead you need the ability to enthuse your team with the same drive that powers you. The flame that lights this fire is passion. Consistently demonstrate this as a leader and you will naturally spread that desire for greatness to your team at all levels.