There’s a great proverb that gets to the heart of leadership: “If you think you’re leading and no one is following you, then you’re only taking a walk.”
Now’s a great time to be thinking about the future. What are your goals, hopes and dreams? What did you learn from last year that you can incorporate into this year’s planning? The tendency is to create a long list of goals and resolutions for yourself and your business. If that’s the case, stop what you’re doing and slow things down. One of the biggest reasons why people get frustrated with their personal goals is they try to take on too much. It’s a leap of faith, but you’ll actually get a lot more done by doing less.
As a leader, your first job is to find a way to get your team focused on what really matters. Hint: Everything on your long list can’t be equally important. There should be a handful of things—three to seven—that are the most important things you should be focusing on for this year. If you want your team to keep following you enthusiastically, you need to be driving the focus. If you lose sight of that, it won’t be long before you find yourself alone on that walk.
To help you avoid that situation, here’s a good starting checklist of five things you should be thinking about as the leader of your team:
Make It Simple
An important part of focusing is simplifying. As the leader, you not only need to see the big picture, you must get to the essence of that big picture and simplify it down so the larger group can easily get on board. More than that, you need to constantly work on simplifying operations—what’s being done and how it’s being done. Complexity leads to chaos. Simplicity leads to leverage and growth.
Leverage Strengths (Your Own and Your Team’s)
You’re good at a lot of things … but you’re not good at everything. Being an effective leader means you understand your own strengths and weaknesses, and you consistently play to your strengths. It also means that you understand how to effectively delegate and surround yourself with a team that complements your strengths. Your team should be much better than you are at many things. What are you currently doing that you don’t enjoy or aren’t very good at? How can you give that to someone else?
Have a Clear Vision
You can’t lead without a destination. It’s your job as the leader to paint a clear picture for where you’re heading long term. That outcome likely will change over time, so creating a vision isn’t a one-time exercise, it’s an ongoing job. And it’s also not just about creating the vision—you have to constantly be communicating it. You’ll be sick of talking about it, but the message needs to be out there at every possible opportunity.
And just as important as the long-term vision, you must also create the short-term road map of how you’re going to get there. What has to be accomplished this year? What are the highest priorities for the next 90 days? This is what keeps the team focused.
Drive to Create Systems
Brute force only gets you so far. A big part of being an effective leader is identifying opportunities for creating leverage. Every business is a system of systems. There is a process you use to deliver your product or service. However, if that process isn’t documented, if you haven’t looked for ways to improve it or automate it, then you’re not creating systems.
Typically, it takes more work up front to document and improve processes than it does to just do it—which is why it’s a leadership effort to push your team to take the long-term view rather than the short-term path of least resistance. Do you have some kind of documented operations manual? How do you train new employees?
Continually Build the Organization
Continued growth and success bring new challenges. What you did last year likely won’t continue to work without some changes. As the leader, you need to understand the big picture, understand the changes that need to be made to continue progressing … and, most importantly, understand how to build your team to address the new and improved ways of doing things.
Do you have the right people in the right seats? Are you structured in the best way for the challenges you have today? What challenges will you have tomorrow? Are you and your employees constantly focused on learning new things? If not, what could you do to change that? (Maybe attend some Book Reviews?)
As the leader of a growing business, there are tons of things you could focus on, and every situation and business is different, but this is a pretty good list to start with. What else would you add?