Your reputation as a leader begins long before you manage a team. Even when you’re just starting out, your leadership brand influences how much people trust you and whether they want to work with you.
My client “Ben” began to think about what it takes to be an effective leader back in college. Now he is chief of operations in a prestigious company with a technical focus. Ben’s sense of his leadership brand remained steady as he has worked his way up through a challenging hierarchy.
Heading key projects in a fast-pace, high-pressure environment, Ben has succeeded by following five guidelines that might help you:
- Share the facts. One of Ben’s professional keystones: “aggressively share information.” While some leaders believe that controlling information gives them more power, Ben operates on a different theory. He drills deep to ensure he fully understands issues and then passes along what he learns in formats that will be most helpful to recipients. Ben describes his habit of sharing information as “an incredible force multiplier.” When he delivers useful intelligence to colleagues, bosses, partners, and customers, he builds an environment of trust. “Then they routinely share with me, and with what we learn we keep improving our products and services.”
- Nurture people and give them what they need. In his first management role, Ben was put in charge of a group of 30 skilled professionals, all older and more experienced. “I expected the team to be turned off by how young I was,” he recalls. “But actually they appreciated my willingness to listen, work hard, and try new approaches.” That first group of direct reports taught him to concentrate on providing them with anything that would help them to become even more productive.
- Be inclusive. While some organizations tend to confine people within their areas of expertise, Ben has chosen another approach. “If colleagues have an even peripheral interest in my projects I’ll invite them in,” he says. He finds that new views and different fields of knowledge have allowed his teams to innovate and outshine the competition.
- Choose optimism. Underlying Ben’s inclusiveness and willingness to share is his choice to maintain a positive attitude. “I look at people and ask myself about how they might add value, instead of worrying how they could create problems,” Ben says. Naturally upbeat, Ben doesn’t always find it easy to maintain his optimistic outlook. “But sometimes a leader just has to choose to smile and act with confidence.”
- Focus on the mission. Ben believes that what his company does is important to society and he frequently uses the company’s mission to motivate employees. “I relay information about senior management decisions, and I take the time to explain how each unit’s activities support the organization’s broad goals.” Ben is lavish in providing positive feedback to staff, and whenever possible he explains how a person’s contributions are adding to the collective effort.
Ben actively encourages his workers to assess his own performance. He welcomes “360 feedback” and other opportunities for gathering comments on how he is regarded as a leader. He understands that building a leadership brand is the antithesis of being fake or manipulative. It’s about becoming better attuned to how your work impacts other people, more aware of relationships, and increasingly adept at displaying your true values and most productive strategies.
Taking the right steps to build relationships with your team will benefit your entire organization. Develop a solid leadership reputation by developing core skills with AMA's resources and seminars.