Great business leaders are developed, not made. You may not consider yourself a “natural” leader, but your leadership skills can be improved and refined, based on real world, day-to-day business activity. If you make it a priority, you’ll realize that every decision can be an opportunity to listen, learn and lead. Here are some suggestions on how you can start to become a better leader:

1. Build Trust

The most effective leaders are trustworthy. Trust is based on honesty, clarity and consistency. Be straight with your team, clearly define expectations, and strive to be consistent in your reactions to daily business activities. That way, the employees who work under you will know what to expect and be prepared for your reactions because they are consistent.

2. Never Be Afraid to Learn

Learn from all employees. Listen with respect and encourage input. The shipping clerk who spends her days filling out forms and tracking packages may have answers that top-tier managers don’t have. She knows the company procedures and may be in the best position to identify opportunities for improved shipping services at lower costs. Reward good suggestions with loud praise to boost morale, and always give credit where credit is due.

3. Lead by Example  

If the crunch is on, and the staff has to work over the weekend, be there to help. Lead by example. You might even bring the doughnuts. If your staff believes that there’s one set of protocols for management, and a second set of protocols for the rank and file, there can be a leadership chasm between management and the rest of the team. The best leaders get their hands dirty, work longer hours, and play by the same rules expected of all employees.

4. Innovate

Just because “it’s always been done this way” doesn't mean it should always be done that way in the future. Leaders innovate, improve business systems, integrate activities with other departments, and find ways to conduct business more productively. Good leaders always stay ahead of the curve when it comes to best practices – and best practices can come from anywhere, at any time, and from any one.

Stay up to date on current technology. It can change daily. Draw on the experience of employees, and put a BIG suggestion box right outside your door. The inspiration to innovate may come from a new hire who knows a better way of doing things based on his last job. You never know, and you never will, if you’re stuck with “what works now.”

5. Prepare

Good leaders are highly adaptable and prepared for a range of circumstances. When they run meetings, they practice and edit their presentations down to the minimum – just the necessary information to move forward. They prepare speeches, sales pitches, conference calls and online collaborations. Good leaders are well prepared every single day. And when surprises occur, as they invariably do, good leaders have a Plan B to keep the company, or department, running smoothly.

6. Be Empathetic

Put yourself in the shoes of those you manage and those who manage you. Empathize with co-workers to better integrate your leadership activities with the business as a whole. Don’t be aloof and non-communicative. Ask questions of your staff. Ask them about their ideas for your business, because the decisions you make impact others in ways that may not benefit the business or the employees. Recognize the impact you have on those around you, and empathize with those who feel the impact of your directives.

7. Work for Your Staff, Not the Other Way Around

Some leaders expect staff members to work for them. Good leaders work for their staff. Good leaders ask, “How can I make your job more productive? How can I streamline what you do? How can I make your job easier, better, more enjoyable?” Hold regular meetings with your team, and ask about problems team members encounter doing their work. Then, find ways to fix those problems and improve the workplace environment.

Lead by being an advocate for your subordinates. Stand up for your people, and provide the tools, instruction and corporate culture that nurture staff and encourage improved performance. Business leaders who put the interests of their staff before their own professional interests make leaders others want to follow.

And those are the best business leaders in any company.


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank, a division of Zions Bancorporation, N.A. Member FDIC