About our writer
Georgia graduated with a Masters Degree in Renaissance Literature from Girton College, Cambridge, last July
Whether you seek it out or not, it’s practically inevitable that, on at least a few occasions in your life, you’ll be called on to assume a role of leadership. This is especially true as you progress through school. And just as they say, “some are born to greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them” (or something like that), the same sort of thing can be said about leadership in general. There are some who are undoubtedly born with more innate leadership ability than others, but all of us, including these fortunate prodigies can benefit from some or all of the tips below.
Whether you’re a seasoned leader, or just taking on the role for the first time, these tips can give you a good foundation, serve as a refresher for things you might have forgot, or give you something to think about that you maybe hadn’t considered before.
Show, Don’t Tell
When we think of leadership, it’s easy to think of it as simply telling others what to do. That’s what leaders do, right? They stand before their minions and order them to carry out the tasks that they themselves are too important to bother with. This is, in fact, an accurate description of bad leadership. Good leaders do something entirely different.
If you want those you lead to be on time, be sure that you are always on time. If you want them to be courteous and professionally dressed, make sure you do so as well. Lead by example. Be what you want them to become.
But this doesn’t just apply to such general concepts as punctuality and professionalism. It also means diving in and getting hands-on by doing a share of the dirty work yourself. And don’t just do the easy bits. Find out what the worst tasks of the project are. That’s where you should assign yourself.
Too often, those in leadership roles do make the mistake of dictating from afar. If you lead by example, however, and do your share of the unpleasant work, those you lead will have more respect toward you, and they’ll be willing to work harder themselves.
Credit Where Credit is Due
You hear it all the time, and quite possibly experienced it yourself. You work your tiny fingers to the bone to deliver stellar results, and when the time comes to bask in the glory of a job well done, your supervisor takes all the credit.
Effective leadership should be looked at not as a sprint, but as a marathon. Even those leaders who aren’t inclined to give credit to others simply because it’s the right thing to do should realise that, in the long run, such behavior can only be self-destructive for the team as a whole. Will the team work as hard for you the next time once they’ve seen you claim all the accolades for yourself? How easy will it be to recruit new team members once word gets around (and it will)?
A truly effective leader doesn’t feel the need to grab the spotlight. You know that the best results come from the entire team working together, and that by sharing that spotlight and crediting those who deserve it, you elevate the entire team (including yourself).
Keep the Blame for Yourself
It’s part of the job, though it may not seem fair. Not only do effective leaders share the credit when things go right, they also keep the blame for themselves when things go wrong.
This is not to say that incompetent behavior from a team member goes unaddressed. It simply means that when things do go wrong, as they sometimes do, assigning blame or designating a sacrificial scapegoat does nothing to either remedy the short-term situation or to keep the same mistake from happening again in the future. Your job as the leader is to assess the situation, determine what happened, and learn how to prevent it from happening again.
Likely, whatever happened, it was the fault of someone and not just a random glitch in the universe. Your job as a leader is to deal with that person appropriately, whether that means a simple discussion as to how to avoid future instances, or whether it means a dock in pay or dismissal, those choices are up to you based on the specifics of the situation.
But whatever your choice, forget about blame.
Pass it On
One of the most difficult parts of leadership, especially for those just starting out, is the deceptively simple act of delegation. You simply can’t be an effective leader if you’re not willing to delegate responsibilities to others, but doing so can be stressful, to say the least, when it’s your name on the final product, and echoing through your head is the old adage, “If you want it done right, do it yourself.”
You must resist with all your strength the urge to just do it all yourself, for many reasons, not the least of which is that it’s impossible. You can’t do it all yourself. If you could, there would be no need for a team. So it’s best to buck up early and accept that you’re going to have to give up some control, because if you don’t, the only alternative is to try do it yourself, and at some point the need for sleep and food will assert itself, and soon after you will quite likely die (albeit with the peace of mind that everything was under control until that final breath).
The trick to delegation is gathering the required knowledge of your team members to determine who is best suited for which tasks. You want them to stretch their comfort zone, but not so much that they’re overwhelmed. It’s a process of trial and error at the start, but in the end, everyone benefits.
Remember Your Manners
When taking on a leadership role, especially for a fairly complex undertaking, you could be forgiven for getting so caught up in managing people and details and clients and suppliers that you forget about the awesome power of a simple “thank you.”
It’s incredibly easy, once you’ve adapted to the necessity of delegation, to let your team go about their business without taking the time to notice and thank them for a job well done. Ironically, this is especially true if your team is exceptionally skilled. A well-oiled machine firing on all cylinders is an easy thing to take for granted. Everything is getting done, it’s all on time, and nobody’s complaining. It’s a beauty to behold. So make the time to notice, and more importantly, recognise the efforts of your stellar team. Set up an automated reminder, if you must. Your team won’t just assume that you’re pleased with their work. You have to tell them. And say thank you.
Don’t Micro-Manage, But Cover Your Bases
We’ve covered delegation of tasks, but just how much do you need to keep tabs on whether those tasks are being properly executed? The answer, of course, varies depending upon the team member with whom you’re dealing, but in general the best approach is to make yourself a checklist of must-happen tasks and then make a point of checking that they’ve been done. This doesn’t mean that you need to follow people around with a clipboard and ticking the appropriate box each time they complete a task or that you require a daily briefing on the exact details of how they’re carrying out their assigned tasks. To do so would defeat the purpose of delegating at all, and would make your team feel untrusted and in need of babysitting.
If you’ve delegated the catering of an event, don’t micro-manage the details of the menu. Do, however, make sure that a menu has been chosen and someone is set to deliver it at the appropriate time.
Yeah, we slipped that one in there, but it’s an easy one to forget. Despite all of the stress and hard work that can come with a position of responsibility, there are also significant personal rewards for a job well done.
Perhaps you always felt that you were somehow incapable of leadership, but you’ve now somehow led your first project to a successful result. Take the time to enjoy that success.
Perhaps you had a team member whom you initially thought a hopeless case, but after discovering their talent for coordinating communication between other team members, they thrived and became a vital part of your overall success. You and they have both done something special. Take the time to enjoy it.
Just as it’s important to take the time to notice and thank your team for their efforts, it’s just as important to do so for yourself.
Once you’ve garnered a successful record of success as a leader, don’t become complacent. In leadership, as in life in general, it’s important to never stop learning and striving to improve yourself.
No matter how successful you become, there’s always more to learn. You’ll never know it all, and life would be quite boring if you did.
Live, learn, and continue to improve your skills. You’ll be glad you did.
If You Build it, They Will Come
Yes, we’re quoting old Kevin Costner films, but bear with us. There’s wisdom to be had, even in emotionally manipulative 80’s baseball films. When all else fails, and you’ve been assigned a leadership task that you’re not sure you’re up to, one surprisingly helpful tip is to simply act as if you are. If you behave like a confident leader, people will believe it and treat you accordingly.
Yes, as with anything, mistakes are bound to be made. This is true of life in general. But the old adage of “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is true. When given a task that you’re not sure you can accomplish, you’re only real choice other than failing by not trying at all is to embrace the challenge and act as if you know what you are doing.
Now, get out there and do it. You’ll never know until you try.