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Some of the most useful bits of information I’ve ever received, I already knew. The problem was I had failed to remember how important they were to my own success.
It’s possible to be energized and enlightened even from ideas that are wandering inside your mind, lost and forgotten, along with phone numbers, passwords and your anniversary.
1. An effective leader maintains the leadership role
I was poor. I mean dirt poor. I was the company’s lowest-paid salesman but was going to school full-time, so education was my main focus, and sales came second. Or possibly fourth.
The owner of the company did everything he could to help me. Once, he even gave me a new sports jacket, although that may have been because he was tired of seeing the one I wore to work every day.
One frigid winter morning, at 3 a.m., when the temperature dropped below zero, I awoke to discover my oil heater had quit working. Panicked, I called him on the phone, and he came to my house and rescued me. It’s like we were best friends.
Since he liked me and wanted to help, it would have been easy for him to play favorites and pay me more than I was worth. The favors I got, however, were those of a friend, not from the company coffers.
During my job review, I asked why I hadn’t gotten a raise. The answer I received came from a leader, not a friend. “It’s because your sales are too low.”
I guess you can’t argue with math.
2. An effective leader makes the tough decisions
Most people postpone the tough decisions thinking the obvious answers will appear. But in many cases, there is no good decision. It’s 49% to 51% either way you go. You’re going to be somebody’s friend and another person’s enemy no matter what you choose.
A true leader focuses on the results of that decision, not who will be mad.
You might recall an episode of “The Office,” where Jim Halpert gets to make his first decision as a manager. The company doesn’t have enough bonus money to go around. Who will get it, and who won’t? His confident decision was met with attacks from people who were his best friends only the day before. Lesson learned.
An effective leader makes the call and deals with the consequences. Sometimes leadership is the worst job in the room.
3. An effective leader sets the tone
When the mood is negative at work, it tends to affect everyone, and it’s easy to fall in line and echo the bad news. Nobody wants to be the oddball.
Maybe sales are down, or the forecast for the year is pessimistic, which can make the entire outlook of the company grow sour.
True leaders do not fall in line with negativity. Instead, they bring their own positive mindset, their own atmosphere and optimism and offer good news in spite of whatever seems apparent.
By doing so, they can literally change the outcome of the company.
A Harvard Business Review article titled “Positive Intelligence” by Shawn Achor discusses the effect of anxiety at work which activates the portion of the brain that processes threats and steals resources from the prefrontal cortex, which is effective for problem-solving.
An effective leader must sometimes stand alone in replacing anxiety with anticipation. He knows when the team is given a task and a plan of attack, they can achieve great things in spite of tremendous obstacles.
4. An effective leader makes the mission clear
What is a mission? It’s the one objective everyone in the company understands. It’s more than a goal — it’s an ideal. It is the accomplishment that, when reached, will change the lives of everyone involved.
A mission is concise and easy to understand. In the military, the mission is to win the war, and when that is accomplished, everybody knows it.
A leader condenses that mission into a short sentence and posts it everywhere. Everyone is acutely aware of that mission to the extent that whatever is done can be measured by whether or not any particular action helps to achieve it.
Twitter got it right: “To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers.”
5. An effective leader affirms
People need affirmation. Leaders often forget that their words have far more impact than the words of anyone else. For an employee to be recognized by a leader, to be told they are doing a great job can inspire more productivity than many other incentives combined.
Knowledgeable leaders give correction gently behind closed doors and sandwich those corrections between two very strong affirmations. Praise, on the other hand, is dished out generously and publicly.
Perhaps, as you read this, you were hit with an “Aha” moment. But, more than likely, you were simply reminded of an aspect of leadership you had forgotten.
It’s easy for leaders like you to forget important aspects of leadership because you are busy being awesome in so many areas of your life.
Do you see what I did there?