What makes a strong leader? To many people, it’s being a “decider.” You know deciders by their bullishness and intensity. While we might be willing to put up with them — and their negative qualities — we don’t often like working with or for them.
Then why do so many people make it a goal to become this aggressive, unpopular kind of leader? At face value, deciders seem strong. Dig a little bit deeper, and you see a flawed style of leadership that doesn’t foster a good environment or mindset for their teams.
It’s critical to approach your leadership style thoughtfully to ensure you’re being the change you want to see. When I started my own company, I decided to lead deliberately. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of creating a company like every other business — or one I wasn’t passionate about. This led me to insist on several must-haves, including weekly team lunches, a familylike culture, an atmosphere of honesty and trust, and unlimited vacation time.
Unsurprisingly, I got a lot of flack from naysayers: “Aren’t you afraid employees will abuse your generous vacation policy?” “How can you be so sure you can trust everyone?” While those concerns were understandable, they missed the point.
Over time, those fears proved irrelevant as people sorted themselves out, team members saw their freedoms were genuine, and customers discovered working with us was easy, straightforward, and enjoyable. Even if someone took an extra week of vacation, the time was never wasted — and we never lost momentum.
Empowering Others by Practicing the Roles of a Good Leader
Building a company culture you can be proud of takes work. It happens because you treat others the way you want to be treated, ultimately fostering close ties based on loyalty and respect. This means you have to be willing to take a few bold steps to avoid leading like the rest.
1. Allow your team to help grow the company.
It’s fine to have an ideal workplace environment in mind, but don’t be a bulldozer. Instead, empower your team to contribute to the office atmosphere and expectations. The importance of a company culture constructed collaboratively is powerful. Believe me when I say that everyone’s contributions will make your business even better.
2. Do what’s right — always.
Is your company led by values? Ours is. We make decisions based on those values, and we do it that way every single time. If we’re presented with a hard choice, we make it. For instance, we’ve never sold on price; we instead concentrate on the value we bring to the table. Clients know we’re not the cheapest alternative, but they appreciate that what they see is what they get.
3. Question everything.
Even if you have the greatest organization in the world, you can’t “set it and forget it.” Just because your team liked something last year doesn’t mean it works or makes sense today. You have to adapt and evolve. Every quarter, gather your team for feedback. Beyond that, empower everyone to come to you directly if they spot a hiccup.
4. Embrace tough conversations.
Communication leads to success, so try to communicate routinely about everything — especially the hard stuff. If you allow authenticity to guide your tough discussions, you’ll make smart decisions. Be advised that the right decisions often feel uncomfortable in the short term. As long as you lead consistently and with honesty, your team will appreciate and emulate your principled leadership.
5. Remember Maslow.
Do you recall Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs? Apply it to your team by making sure they have everything they need to succeed. As you get to know everyone on an individual level, you’ll begin to sense when someone’s needs are not met. Still, you can’t read minds. Tell team members that they can and should come to you when they feel like they can’t be effective because some need has not been met. Together, you can solve their dilemma.
6. Have fun whenever you can.
Beers on a Friday afternoon can be fun for some employees, but it won’t necessarily be fun for everyone in every situation. Instead of focusing on what “fun” means to you, let the whole team decide. Then, put “fun” into action. For instance, you might want to let everyone off early on a random Wednesday for no reason. Alternatively, you might want to host a picnic for employees and their families. Do whatever you can to make sure your work isn’t always about work.
7. Mentor the next generation of leaders.
Do you have leaders or future leaders reporting to you? Mentor them. The last thing you want is for them to slip into the “decider” style of management. Teach them how leaders empower others in a modern, empathetic way. Offer helpful advice when they stumble. You can’t assume everyone who is a leader is completely confident or competent in all areas of leadership. We’re human, after all.
You might not have a company you love today — and that’s OK. Over time, you can lead by example and begin to turn around your company culture. Shift your focus and concentrate on ways to make it a place where deciders need not apply.