Leading into 2014: 5 tips for leadership success

leadership chessWith a new year comes new ambitions and hopes, and this applies especially to business. Anyone who takes their job seriously will no doubt be using this period to reflect how they can improve on their performance in 2013. Those who run companies themselves will have even more to think about.

Whether you’re running a small start-up company or a multinational organisation, no business can function with having somebody to pull the strings, and to be looked up to as the face of the company or a department within it. Acting as a leader, however, does not come naturally to everybody, and it can be a big step up if you’re more used to simply managing your own time rather than that of a whole company.

Women, in particular, often feel daunted by this, and worry that they won’t be taken seriously, but recent years have seen a long overdue shift in attitude on this front. Women-owned businesses have been found to outperform those run by males in studies where firm characteristics are controlled. If you hope to be one of 2014’s many successful female leaders, here are my top five tips.

1. Don’t be afraid to make big decisions

Part of good leadership is to take personal responsibility for key business decisions, and to make them based on the knowledge and experience that saw you to a leader’s position in the first place. Don’t forget that you have earned the right to be a leader, regardless of whether you worked your way up within an existing business or you set up your own company. The important thing is that you’re the one in the driving seat for a reason, and it means you are well qualified to make the day-to-day calls your company depends on.

When the time comes to make a tough call, be certain of your own judgement. Before you commit to it, form a clear idea of not only why it is the right decision, but also why the alternative decision is the wrong one. Once you have come to a conclusion, stick with your choice and have confidence in your own decision-making ability.

Even the best leaders occasionally make mistakes, but if they can justify why they believed the decision was correct at the time, and learn from anything they could have done better, they are well on their way to displaying the bravery needed to be a respected leader.

2. Trust your staff

A crucial aspect of leading is not to do everything yourself. You may be the honcho, but you’re still part of a team and it’s essential that you make the best possible use of the employees available to you.

The first step to doing this is to bring in the right employees in the first place. Don’t be frightened to really challenge your potential employees at their application and interview stage. The best candidates will shine through and show that they understand the company and share its ethos.

When you bring staff on board, you’re stating they you believe they can do the job, so give them the opportunity to prove this. Delegating work effectively is pivotal to looking after staff, so have faith in your employees to effectively carry out the tasks you set them. Remember, they’ve already impressed you enough to land a job with you, so give them a chance to flourish. One of the most important ways to do this is to listen to their suggestions, remembering that they are the ones immersed in their particular field within the company and they probably have the best ideas on how to make it work better.

3. Get the balance right

There’s a fine line between being an approachable, likeable boss and being a simpering David Brent character. Having friendships in the workplace is fine, but leaders who put “having a laugh” before motivating, encouraging and monitoring their staff tend not to be respected in the long run (if, indeed, a “long run” is likely in such a company).

This doesn’t mean that you need to rule with an iron fist, but simply to take yourself and your colleagues seriously. Be the leader who gives each member of a team personal attention, and is approachable to anybody who has a suggestion or concern. Remember, however, that your main interest is to maintain your business’ success, so you should strive to be the leader who keeps on good terms with employees, but does not shirk away from letting them know when they are not performing as you hoped. The majority of employees would prefer to know if they are doing something wrong.

4. Show enthusiasm

As an employee, there is nothing worse than coming into a job where you are just plain bored. Happy and motivated employees work productively and, as a leader, it’s your job to keep spirits high by rewarding excellent performance, encouraging employees to bring the best out of themselves and maintaining a healthy and dynamic working environment.

If you don’t show passion and enthusiasm in your business and its targets, how can you expect your employees to? Make sure that you keep setting them achievable challenges and always monitor things in the workplace that could be done better.

There is no reason to keep a certain procedure in place simply because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”. It can sometimes take a new face in the company to point out that something being done in the workplace is not effective, or even doesn’t make sense. If that happens, it’s easy to get defensive about company practices, but there’s really no need to. Take a step back from your position as leader and, with an open mind, look into whether something really works. If not, ask the person who brought it up if they can come up with an alternative. Suggested changes should not be seen as a threat, but as a breath of life into something that might be holding your company back.

5. Lead yourself

When you’re keeping watch over so many operations within your business, it’s easy to forget that there is now probably nobody keeping watch over you. It’s therefore fundamental that you can not only bring the best out of your staff, but also keep your own performance at a level you are happy with and know you are capable of achieving.

So, keep setting yourself targets and goals in the same way that you would if you were not a leader. If you are not meeting them, take the time to consider why. Are you making the best use of your team?

If it is obvious that you are underperforming and not meeting targets yourself, your employees will struggle to take you seriously if you need to discipline other staff members for their performance. This is why it is fundamental to set a good example and lead from the front in achieving the targets set by the company.

The best leaders are those who can remain philosophical in any outcome. Even when performing excellently, leaders should always be on the lookout for things that could be done better. Similarly, if you believe you or your company have underperformed, it’s important not to get so bogged down by this that any positive developments during the period in question are overlooked.

Whatever 2014 has in store, it’s bound to be another great one for female-led businesses throughout the UK!

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