Improving leadership is an idea that can be difficult to grasp in tactical or practical ways.
The first step to improving it is to define it.
Our leadership definition, in its simplest form, means the act of getting individuals aligned and moving in the same direction toward a desired outcome.
Picture this: a world where every leader knew what goals they wanted to achieve, knew how to get their followers working toward that goal and knew how to use their strengths to get there. The world would be a much different place, wouldn’t it?
Effective leadership has a lot to do with inspiring, aligning and then activating — but it doesn’t end there.
A key to effective leadership is the ability to define outcomes, but then helps individuals put their talents to use to get there. The best leaders know their people and are more aware of those people’s strengths than they are of their weaknesses. Great leaders aren’t blind to their own or others’ weaknesses; they just know that their competitive edge lies within their strengths.
Let’s put this into perspective.
Consider the owner of a successful bakery. Let’s call him Jim. When Jim was in culinary school, he wanted to open a restaurant, but there was a problem. He was terrible at cooking. He burned every pasta dish and dried out every chicken entree. However, when it came to the art of baking, he excelled — nobody was better.
Jim also had a natural knack for leadership, often pulling other students into his projects and helping them learn through his expertise — whether it was people or pastries, he knew what he was doing.
And even better, he knew that what he had originally desired had changed.
Now, his friends and family wanted Jim to follow his original dream. His instructors offered him extra cooking lessons because they knew he could get better. His peers told him to work harder, saying, “Jim, we know you’re good at baking. You’re the best — a natural! But forget that. Your dream is to cook. Just spend more time on that.”
But he didn’t listen. Jim opened his own bakery, hired full-time staff and grew a successful business.
From an outsider’s perspective, it was easy to see what Jim should do.
The advice from Jim’s inner circle wasn’t great. Their intentions were, but they were ignoring natural excellence and emphasizing weakness in hopes of mediocrity.
It’s the type of advice leaders fall prey to often. “Spend most of your time developing your weaknesses to become a stronger leader” — when really, you could acknowledge those weaknesses but use your strengths to make up for them.
Not focusing on weaknesses and focusing on strengths is countercultural — but the best leaders don’t follow. They are willing to stray from the way things have always been done and be open to better ways to succeed.
Clarify Leadership Roles and Expectations
Having clear expectations in your role as a leader is vital to success. Most of the time, understanding your role and the expectations that come with it begins with deciding what outcomes or goals need to be met. Whether you define them yourself or have an organization define them for you, they need to be clear, manageable and well-communicated.
When leaders lack clear expectations for their own roles and outcomes, it can create a lack of trust among their followers. They can come off as incompetent and lose buy-in from their team members.
Think of any leader you’ve had personal experience with. If you asked them, “What is the outcome of this supposed to be?” or “What is the purpose?” and they said, “I don’t know,” there would be an apparent issue with how they go about fulfilling the duties of their role.
Action item: List out the responsibilities of your role — both those that were ascribed to you and the ones you took on yourself. Outlining the expectations and responsibilities of your role as a leader will help you know where and how to focus your energy.
How to Become a More Effective Leader