Lead Like a Rockstar

ICYMI, there are good leaders out there and there are bad leaders out there. Okay, you probably knew that, but what distinguishes the good from the mediocre to the bad is sometimes difficult to discern – especially if you’ve found yourself in a first-time leadership position. Based on my work and volunteer experiences, this is what I’ve observed – or maybe even learned myself the hard way.

Good Leaders:

Dive in deep and participate.

Of course you must delegate, but you will be a much more effective leader if your organization knows that you grasp the responsibilities of its contributors and that you are willing to roll-up your sleeves. Analyze and understand roles, metrics, processes, and workflow systems, and seek out historical perspective. If you don’t understand something – keep asking and searching until you do. Pitch in when relevant and practical, even if it is not necessary. Outstanding leaders know their organizations from the bottom up. (This is also a critical component of being an effective decision-maker.)

Do not assume you have all the answers, but at least have some of them.

Pre-communicate the vision and planned tactics before the requirements and/or implementation stage. Don’t just dictate; engage in conversations. Frequently, a contributor will suggest a more efficient pathway, a simple but helpful enhancement, or a reason why your vision just won’t work. On the other hand, don’t just throw out a problem and ask everyone else to fix it. You will be seen as clueless and trying to pass the buck. Strive for mutual input and agreement on the best approach and moderate the conversation. This creates a sense of organizational ownership and, frequently, a better product or service.

Communicate the rationale behind the vision, objectives, and tactics.

Contributors will be more engaged and committed if they understand the rationale behind the strategy. Consistently incorporate rationale in all communications – group meetings, individual task assignments, and external announcements. Why are you doing what you are doing? People really do want to know.

Develop and promote the professional brands of individual contributors.

While any good leader provides development opportunities, an outstanding leader also helps develop and promote a contributor’s professional brand. Get to know what contributors do, what they want to do, what motivates them, and what other qualities they offer. What makes that person unique? Leverage and reinforce those qualities in organizational communications, future requests and assignments, training and development programs, and feedback.

Insist on collaboration but don’t over do it.

Balance the need for efficiency versus the need for cohesiveness by recognizing who needs to be included in which tasks. Not everyone needs to attend every meeting, and you should be careful about balancing the need to keep informed with the need to stay productive. Keep invite lists to the “must haves” and perhaps a few optionals, but schedule regular, quick “big picture” meetings to ensure that everyone understands the overall strategy, roadmap, and current status. Provide enough information so that contributors can identify and speak to any interdependencies, particularly if they impact budget, timeline, or scope.

Embrace but manage change.

Change can be good or bad, but it is a fact of life in most organizations. When change is good, your job as a leader is easy –just focus your organization on the benefits and rationale. When change is bad, on the other hand, your first question should be whether you are in a position to challenge it and offer a better alternative. If you aren’t successful, you still must commit to the change and focus on helping your team make the most of it. Finally, to the extent that you are driving the change, take the time to think it all the way through and, if possible, implement the entire big picture all at once. Trickle-down and/or excessive change are frequently seen as a sign of weak leadership or volatility within the organization.

Acknowledge your own limitations and show that you are working to improve them.

Some leaders like to portray a perfect, all-knowing image, but the more effective leaders are open about their weaknesses while demonstrating proactive efforts to improve. Whether this means asking more questions about a particular issue that you don’t understand or seeking out training, contributors have likely already identified your limitations and will respect you for owning them and taking action.

Require accountability but don’t micromanage.

Establish a process for individual and organizational status updates with all key contributors on a regular basis, e.g., weekly or twice-monthly. Individuals report to you on their progress, and you then incorporate that information into an overall organizational status update. Contributors are then accountable to both you and the rest of the team, and any obstacles can be proactively addressed. While certain tasks or individuals may require more regular communication and direction, others may very well excel with this simple, hands-off approach. Many contributors are very effective if they just understand what they are responsible for and are required to regularly account for their progress.

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