Businesses need leaders to make them work. A company may have excellent products, talented workers and enthusiastic customers, but without effective leadership it may never fulfil its potential.
What is a business leader?
A business leader can have many different titles. They may be the founder of the business, who has gone on to become the Chief Executive (CEO) or Chairman. They may be known as Managing Director, or President.
They could be one of a team of leaders in the Board of Directors, or the C-Suite – executive level managers with titles including Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, even Chief Imagination Officer.
Whatever their title, their role is to direct the business. All will be charged with setting goals for the business and achieving those goals by overcoming challenges and inspiring employees.
Different leaders will interpret that in their own ways. Where one will lead from the front, with motivating speeches and a high public profile, others will be hands-on, spending time on the factory floor and with customers and suppliers.
What leadership skills are important?
Whatever a leader’s personal style, there are some attributes that the best leaders share. Are you any of these?
Can you inspire others with your view of where the business is going, how it will get there and how you’ll know when you’ve arrived? People will follow you and do as you ask, if they believe in your aims and understand your vision.
Explaining goals, tasks and problems clearly, so that people know what to do, is one part of communicating. It’s equally important to listen to people – your team, colleagues, customers and suppliers and to share information so that others can understand for themselves.
What are your values? Integrity and principles mark out the best business leaders. You must be seen to behave well at all times. That includes the way you expect your team to behave day-to-day, from helping them realise a good work-life balance, to being satisfied with only the highest standards of work.
Being the leader means taking tough decisions. It’s not just what you decide, whether it’s cancelling a project or making people redundant. It’s how you decide and communicate your decisions. A good leader will be fair, honest and kind in even the toughest situations.
Leading isn’t the same as doing. Great leaders surround themselves with talented people and give them challenging and important work. They share the glory as well as the pain and help your people learn and grow to become great leaders themselves.
Leaders celebrate successes, however small and local. You can make the most junior people feel important by recognising the vital contribution they make and that they have lives beyond work.
Most organisations thrive through teams that work well together. Some leaders believe that leadership sets them apart. But all leaders work in teams – of other leaders, or on a project. The best leaders put their skills and experience to work for every team they join.
However you reached your position of leadership, you’ll learn lessons on your way. From successes, from failures and from the “might-have-beens”. Can you share what you’ve learned and let others learn too?
Leaders never stop learning. They realise that there are new things to learn every day. The newest employee may know more about their generation than anyone else in the business. Have the humility to listen and learn from everyone you meet.
How can I develop the skills to be a good leader?
There are no short-cuts. Even though there are young business leaders with a natural aptitude for leadership there are really only two ways to acquire the skills.
One is from experience and that comes with time and hard work.
The other is through education. A good management degree, from an institution like the Business School (formerly Cass) that has strong ties with business, can teach you some skills and help you develop others. The best courses will expose you to leaders who can inspire you and show you the different paths to follow as you progress to becoming a good leader.