How do I become a successful leader?

December 23, 2019

Nelson Mandella. Tom Brady. John Lennon. Simon Sinek.

Those names mean many things to many people, but their common trait is leadership. Millions of people around the world study successful leaders, a practice that has spawned a training industry worth an estimated $366 billion.

The notion of leadership is broad and open to significant interpretation. Given that “leadership” can mean so many things to so many people, this blog will focus on attainable goals within an office environment. Whether you’re working on effective communication or leadership training, it’s important to take steps toward empowering employees to become leaders. In fact, if there’s any common thread among leaders it would be that they inspire others to be leaders. A good place to begin this discussion is to explore the notion of power – a quality often associated with leadership.

Authoritative power vs. referent power

Most people are familiar with authoritative power, a type of power many of us can trace back to our earliest days of childhood when a parent decreed, “Because I said so.” With authoritative power, there’s no room for interpretation or negotiation. Orders must simply be carried out because they were issued by an authority figure with power. Outside of certain military applications, this type of leadership often causes resentment.

Referent power is quite different from authoritative power and results from a more subtle style of leadership many managers find successful. In its simplest form, referent power means that a leader serves as a point of reference for their followers. People see them working hard and aspire to replicate their success. When their followers have questions, they refer to this authority figure to help them solve their problems. The manager who wields referent power does not have to have an answer to every question at their fingertips. Rather the referent leader adopts more of a mindset of willingness to help. This leadership attitude is focused on empowering employees to complete work assigned to them while eliminating obstacles to success. Employees in this setting see their leader as someone who enables them to be successful without distraction.

Referent power is attained over time through successful delegation and earned trust. Referent leadership plays a strong role in building a successful corporate culture focused on personal and professional growth. For example, in this setting, if an employee shows proficiency in a skill that’s not technically part of their job, the leader allows them to take on the task. Their success in expanding their professional abilities builds confidence overtime. Likewise, their perceived value as an employee will increase.

Coaching for success

Happy employees consistently say the same things about successful leaders: they know exactly where they stand with their boss. Nothing kills morale faster than ambiguity about job security. So how is this type of environment achieved? Through constant and immediate feedback. Let’s focus on two major types of coaching feedback – the proverbial carrot and stick – praise and reprimand. Both are part of successful coaching, and both are most effective when they are applied just as soon as possible.

For example, if an employee enjoys a success, praise them immediately. Give them credit in front of colleagues and superiors. This type of recognition goes a long way toward creating that transparency and confidence employees crave. You will likely find that a culture that encourages leaders to praise success is fun, as most people enjoy giving and receiving praise for a job well done. People who experience this sort of culture often enjoy their working environment and are more likely to stay with the company. Clearly, this “carrot culture” goes a long way toward improving employee retention.

Creating an effective “stick culture” is more difficult. Reprimands can be challenging for many people. That said, some of the same rules that we used with praise apply. As with praising, reprimanding employees as soon as possible is best. Unlike praise, however, reprimands should be delivered in private settings. When the time comes to reprimand an employee, explain in direct terms why they are being reprimanded and tell them how you feel about it. Then ask an exploratory question that allows the employee time to respond. A typical reprimand conversation might go as follows:

“I noticed a problem on Wednesday’s reports and I am a little concerned. Can you tell me what happened here?”

Approaching a reprimand this way helps to reduce tension. It is less confrontational and allows the subordinate time to consider the situation and offer a response. It also builds trust and rapport between the leader and the reprimanded subordinate.

Be a boss, not a buddy

Many new managers try to be all things to all people. They want to be likable and remembered fondly by each staff member. While it’s important to be nice, this puts managers in a tough spot. A leader’s job is to make the decisions that benefit the greater work community. Not everyone will be happy with every decision the leader makes. A manager who tries to placate every employee will soon find that he or she cannot be consistent. As more employees ask for concessions, each subsequent compromise runs the risk of contradicting another employee’s request or a written company policy. The larger the staff, the more difficult this balancing act becomes.

We can help

Employers that offer professional development opportunities, hire internally, carefully cultivate their company culture, and layer accountability through training often find themselves in a position to build on past success with an eye toward the future. Management training and succession planning can benefit an organization for many years to come. Our experienced team of HR professionals can help managers unlock the hidden potential for staff in surprising ways.

At SourcePointe, we utilize our industry experience to provide you with a multitude of customizable HR services, support, and solutions. All so your business can do one thing – more business. We’ll provide tailor-made solutions that fit your company’s needs while providing a solid return on your investment that pays off immediately – and for many years after that.

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