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Creating a Leadership Culture

Find, teach, and train the right people to lead your company.

As a business grows and becomes more and more successful, we find that the challenges we face in our daily operations never really go away. As we solve one problem, a different one comes along. After all, the purpose of business isn’t really to get rid of our problems, but rather figuring out how to deal with them.

So here we are, day in and day out, dealing with one issue after another. It can become overwhelming trying to do it all by yourself. And if you want to continue to build success with your business, you must have help. So how do you find, teach, and train the right people to become your company’s next leaders?

Four leadership traits

You must first establish a culture of leadership within your organization. Whether intentional or not, a leadership culture of some sort probably already exists in your company. It may be one that you have developed and is effective in your business. On the other hand, it may be a culture of poor leadership, where many of your employees feel like they have no one to follow.

When cultures are born out of de-facto systems without specific design or purpose, they’re inherently inconsistent from manager to manager and typically create chaos, confusion, and discord in a business. So how do you develop the type of leadership environment that you want? Let’s begin by identifying four characteristics of a successful leader.

* Energy: If a leader is excited about the direction he or she is heading it usually doesn’t really matter where that direction might be, people will follow. Of course, if they’re heading the wrong way it can become a problem. But making mistakes as a leader is inevitable. When leaders work with enthusiasm they can take a corrective course of action and others will follow. People don’t expect their leaders to be perfect, but they do expect them to be excited and committed to reaching their goals.

* Confidence: In order to get people to follow, leaders must exude confidence about where they are going. Leaders who are unsure and tentative about their goals, their purpose, or their direction are destined for failure. If the team senses that their leader is unsure, they are much less likely to follow. It’s important, however, to distinguish confidence from egotism. The difference is most easily illustrated when a mistake is made: An egotist will never admit to being wrong and will either ignore the fact that a mistake has been made, pressing onward in spite of the misdirection, or blame the mistake on someone else. A leader with confidence, however, will readily admit to the mistake, take corrective action, change direction, and encourage the team to plow forward together. This type of leader will always have the respect of the team.

* Communication: The ability to properly communicate with a team is one of the most important qualities a leader can have. Many leaders believe that their communication skills have everything to do with the way they speak their message and how well they can get their employees to listen and follow. On the contrary, the most effective leaders are those who learn to listen. Listening to those whom you supervise is one of the best ways to effectively lead in any organization. Too many people placed in leadership roles immediately take it upon themselves to provide all direction, all communication, and all decisions without consulting their team members. A successful leader will utilize all members of the team by soliciting feedback, discussing direction, and getting the group to agree on where to proceed or how to tackle a problem together. That’s the nature of effective communication.

* Vision: Having a vision of where you want your team to go is an important part of leadership. But it is only part of the dynamic. Helping your employees also see your vision and then getting them to "buy in" to both the destination and the means to get there completes the idea of vision. This, of course, is directly related to the other qualities we have discussed. If you lead with energy, exhibit confidence in both yourself and your team, and communicate effectively, you will be much more effective in sharing your vision and providing the means for your group to succeed.

Reaching the next level

The next step is developing these qualities within your team. There are a couple of ways you can approach this. First, try as much as possible to emulate these leadership characteristics in your own behavior. Of course, you don’t have to be the perfect leader to be able to mentor your team. But if you aren’t exhibiting energy, confidence, communication, and vision, you are probably an ineffective leader and will have a difficult time instilling leadership skills in those around you. So the first step is simple: Begin with yourself.

Another successful way to train leaders is to solicit outside help. Recruit some respected people inside and outside your industry to speak to your management team. They will bring fresh ideas to your people to help them grow. The best part of using others in training is that your people will typically listen to them and take their advice.

At our company, our management team never really talks about the training sessions we have taught, but they do consistently refer to some of the information learned when others have been invited to come and speak. If you don’t have extensive networks of outside people, you can also research outside seminars and workshops that will address specific subjects such as communication, leadership skills, time management, etc.

In addition, there are dozens of management books written by some of the best and the brightest addressing leadership topics. I’ve mentioned in past articles about the value of reading these types of books together as a team and assigning different individuals from your leadership group to teach a given chapter or section of the book. Peers teaching peers is a great way to get everyone involved in the learning process. Here are just four books our company has found to be particularly valuable when it comes to leadership training (all of these can be found via amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, etc):

* Good to Great, by Jim Collins;

* The Great Game of Business, by Jack Stack;

* The Goal, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt; and

* Execution, by Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan.

Managers vs leaders

You’ll find that there is a difference between managers and leaders within any organization. A qualified manager can do a great job managing personnel within the framework of your business place. A well-trained leader, on the other hand, will consistently find ways to improve that framework and then get others to follow. These are the type of people that will help your business continue to improve and move to the next level.

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