So, You Wanna Be a Leader . . .

Last week, I wrote a post titled, Leadership vs. Management, in which I outlined my view on the differences between the two disciplines.  Since then, I’ve gotten several emails asking about the key attributes of great leaders and how an entrepreneur starting a new business can make sure that they’re the best leader possible.  While I don’t claim to be an expert, I do have some thoughts on the matter.

As I stated in the previous post, I believe that leadership is far more of an art than a science.  The key factor of which is the ability to communicate with a wide variety of people in many different ways.  This communication is not all or always verbal.  Some of the strongest leadership communication is done through one’s actions.  Sure, if you can stand up in front of your employees and spin a story that captures their imaginations and fuels their internal fires, you have many of the skills required to be a great leader.  But, listening (really listening) to your employees, offering praise, working harder than they do and always walking your talk are the everyday things you can do to make people want to follow you.

Another important factor in great leadership is that there is nothing subtle, casual or passive about it.  Great leaders let their message be heard and broadcast it constantly.  They step-up and take the lead.  The reason they can do this is, to me, the greatest hidden factor in leadership: most people want to be led.  That’s right.  Even though you think you surround yourself with Type A, self-sufficient and over-confident people, most people, including many who don’t act like it, seek a guiding light. They want someone else taking point and relish the security of following someone who is honorable, knowledgeable, strong and opinionated (think James T. Kirk). 

Entrepreneurial leaders, especially ones just getting started, often fall into one of two traps:

  • They are too reserved and are uncomfortable taking a strong and highly communicative role in the organization.  For many, this is a natural weakness, or one instilled over many years and is difficult for them to change.  For others, it’s a confidence issue – confidence in themselves or in where their new enterprise is going.  In either case, they need to change or step aside.  If not, the new company will pay dearly.
  • They are concerned that their taking a strong leadership role will impact the concept of having a flat organization with balanced responsibilities and everyone being equal.  It will.  It should.  Someone has to lead and, assuming the organization is built with strong people, a de facto leader will rise to the top and he/she may not be the entrepreneur.  The role of leader needs to be declared by the entrepreneur right up front through his/her words and actions.

Finally, it’s important to note that one can be a strong leader without having created the idea or determined the path to take.  While it’s a bit easier when the leader is also the creator, adopting the ideas and plans of others (and issuing the appropriate credit, of course) will make a leader stronger.  Correctly managed, more brains are better than fewer and followers form a stronger bond to leaders that are open.


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