Leadership that inspires people has a profound impact on an organization’s success. Strong leadership not only helps guide employees toward achieving a common goal, but can instill in team members confidence in their ability to see mistakes as learning opportunities.
Successful leaders also understand the importance of shifting between leadership styles as a means of pursuing and achieving their goal. For example, in some instances leaders may serve as coaches or mentors who recognize team members’ individual strengths and weaknesses. They create a positive and nurturing environment, set various goals for each team member and provide regular feedback to promote growth.
An example of this would be a sales manager who wants to help improve the team’s performance in Q2. At the end of Q1, a meeting might be held with all the sales staff to discuss the team’s strengths and weaknesses in the prior three months. Goals and benchmarks for the upcoming quarter would also be discussed. To motivate the team to reach those benchmarks, a contest might be announced where the top performer would win an all-expenses-paid trip to an exotic locale.
Other leaders may choose to employ a democratic style of leadership. In this instance, team members are asked for their individual input before a decision is made. Although the leader is still responsible for making the final call, collaborating with team members can maintain and improve morale because everyone feels as if their opinions and votes matter.
Although leadership styles vary, successful leaders understand that different styles work better with different teams. It should also be noted that while some believe leadership and management are synonymous, they are in fact quite different. Management is a skill associated with directing and overseeing. People manage budgets, time, contracts and programs. Leadership, on the other hand, is about mentoring, coaching and/or supervising people.
As such, professionals who wish to pursue leadership roles in an organization will be well served by developing a variety of strengths and competencies. The following leadership skills are recommended.
Leadership Strength #1: Leadership Vision
Leaders must have a defined vision if they want people to follow them. Consequently, understanding how to develop a clear vision, and how to outline a path that leads toward a specific organizational outcome, is crucial in helping teams achieve their goal.
The importance of leadership vision is underscored in statements made by past CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Former Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mullaly once said “leadership is having a compelling vision, a comprehensive plan, relentless implementation and talented people working together.” Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, noted that “good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision and relentlessly drive it into completion.”
A leader’s vision outlines why staff work for an organization and the goal that everyone is trying to achieve. It also outlines an organization’s values and purpose, and ultimately, the vision defines what team members will strive toward both today and into the future.
Developing a leadership vision can be quite perplexing for those who haven’t done it before. To start, individuals must determine who they want to be as a leader and how they want to motivate and mentor their people. A vision must be future-oriented and outline how the goals of an organization are relevant to its staff.
For example, a sales lead at an organization that makes recycled, biodegradable food takeout containers may have a leadership vision that involves encouraging customers to see how purchasing this product can help them become environmental stewards. This can be tied to statistics that show how plastic and Styrofoam food containers pollute landfills and oceans, and the dangers they pose to wildlife. This type of vision can illustrate to the rest of the sales team how and why their work matters.
Strategies for Establishing a Leadership Vision
Strategies to develop an effective leadership vision include the following:
- Define and communicate your goals
- Set a clear direction and purpose
- Provide inspiration and help staff understand they are part of something bigger than themselves
- Help staff feel they are appreciated and important
- Become a “North Star” that guides team members in the right direction
- Understand what needs to be done in the short-term to help an organization achieve its goals
- Establish a culture of continuous improvement
- Behave ethically and serve as a positive example
- Provide opportunities for team members to grow personally and professionally
- Act and mentor with compassion
A vision must mean something to an organization’s employees for it to come to life. Once a leadership vision has been established, true leaders ask their staff what they need to achieve the common goal.
Leadership Strength #2: Innovation Leadership
When innovation is combined with leadership, the result is a leadership style that’s inspiring and creative because it employs out-of-the-box thinking. Well-known examples of innovative leaders include Microsoft Corporation co-founder Bill Gates, Thomas Edison and former Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
Innovation leadership is about finding new and novel ways to solve problems. It’s the ability to inspire oneself and others during times of uncertainty by finding ways to transform problems into opportunities. Although innovative leaders are not always the ones who create an idea, they can spot great ideas from their team members. They also understand how to conceptualize a path that transforms great ideas into reality.
A variety of skills are necessary to be an innovative leader, such as strong imagination and communication skills, self-awareness, problem-solving skills and the ability to create a culture where everyone is encouraged to have ideas.
Communication is an important tool in inspiring and spreading innovation. Innovative leaders not only understand how to communicate their vision, they understand how to generate excitement for it. They also understand the importance of leading with questions, not answers, because questions generate a path toward possibilities.
Innovative leaders do not micromanage. Instead they focus on the big picture and find creative ways to get from point A to point B. To accomplish this, innovative leaders need a dynamic imagination, because it’s their job to conceptualize the stages and processes of bringing innovative ideas to life.
Innovative leaders not only have a strong sense about the type of energy they give off, they’re aware of how they come across as individuals. They know their strengths and weaknesses, are keenly aware of their competencies and blind spots, and understand how to use the strengths of their team.
Instead of pointing out how or why an idea won’t work, innovative leaders look past an idea’s flaws and focus on how to make it work. They are also comfortable with creating a safe space for methodological risk-taking and failure, because failures create learning opportunities.
The Ability to Fuel Innovation
The role of an innovative leader is to create a culture in which everyone is encouraged to voice and share their ideas. It’s important that team members are comfortable in taking moderate risks and making mistakes without fear of being disciplined.
Leadership Strength #3: Strategic Leadership
Strategic leadership is a learned skill that aligns strategy with leadership. Strategy involves setting up a systematic approach to help advance an objective. Since well-crafted strategy is essential to the long-term success of an organization, individuals who employ strategic leadership are forward thinking and future focused.
Strategic leadership is effective in motivating employees and departments to work together. Because it is broad in scope, individuals who possess this skill see how various components of an organization are interdependent. As such, strategic leaders can help individuals understand how actions and decisions in one part of an organization can impact another.
Strategic Leadership Examples
Modern-day examples of strategic leadership are numerous. For example, Gates and his wife Melinda are using the Gates Foundation to reduce infectious disease rates throughout the globe. Their strategic approach to grantmaking helps the foundation move that objective forward.
In 1983, Starbucks director of retail operations and marketing Howard Schultz took a trip to Milan, Italy, and was astonished by the number of coffee bars throughout the city. Starbucks just sold beans at the time, and he felt strongly that by adding coffee drinks to the menu the chain could experience exponential growth. Although the company’s founders weren’t on board with the idea, two years later they sold Starbucks to Shultz and a handful of investors. Schultz then became Starbucks’ chairman and CEO.
According to Biography.com, “by 2014, Starbucks had grown to encompass more than 21,000 stores worldwide, with a market capitalization valued at $60 billion. The incredibly popular coffee company reportedly opens two or three new stores every day and attracts around 60 million customers per week.”
Principles of Strategic Leadership
According to the Center for Management & Organization Effectiveness, there are a variety of principles associated with strategic leadership.
- Delegate responsibility
- Be tenacious and don’t give up due to the risk of failure
- If the unexpected happens, be agile and willing to change your strategy on the fly
- Take strategic risks and encourage your team to take strategic risks
- Create an environment where it is safe for team members to fail
- Encourage collaboration among various teams and departments
- Use your resources to gather as much information as you can so you can see the complete picture
- Be proactive and take intelligent action
- Drive change and be comfortable acting on a good idea
- Have a clear, defined vision and share it with your team
- Reflect on the outcomes of past decisions and use that information to improve decision-making in the future
Employing these principles takes practice, but when they are adopted together they can help create a cohesive team within an organization. Strategic leaders know teams that have a unified goal will have more success in moving ideas forward.
Leadership Strength #4: Motivating Leadership
Great leaders understand leadership is about more than having a vision and getting people to buy into it. They must also be able to inspire and motivate their team to actively advance an organization’s objectives. That’s where motivational leadership comes in.
These types of leaders are self-motivated, and they understand the importance of striving for continuous improvement. They constantly seek out new ideas and learning opportunities. They also spend their time absorbing information from a variety of sources, such as networking events, conferences, seminars and industry publications.
Motivating leaders understand how to inspire confidence within their team, and they focus on their team members’ strengths, not their weaknesses. They offer encouragement when it’s needed, offer guidance during times of stress, and know how to motivate their team to strive to achieve goals as opposed to mandating them to carry out orders. Famous examples of motivational leaders include former President Barack Obama and General Colin Powell.
“I always believe that ultimately, if people are paying attention, then we get good government and good leadership. And when we get lazy as a democracy and civically start taking shortcuts, then it results in bad government and politics.” – Barack Obama
“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers who can cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution that everyone can understand.” – General Colin Powell
Motivational leadership builds optimism in a variety of ways. For example, motivational leaders help inspire confidence, can rally team members toward achieving a common goal and project optimism in team members’ ability to advance objectives. They inspire a positive culture within their organization and are masters of finding ways to maximize employee engagement.
Inspiring People with Motivating Leadership
Motivating leaders use a variety of tactics to inspire people to complete tasks and achieve a specific goal. Examples include:
- Serving as a teacher and mentor
- Emotional intelligence
- Striving to be a role model
- Expressing positivity
- Being trustworthy
- Always acting with integrity
- Clear, concise written and verbal communication
- Expressing gratitude to their team
- A willingness to listen to others
Motivational leaders are highly effective managers because they understand how to elevate and empower their team. Not surprisingly, people who employ this leadership strategy are often seen as mentors, not supervisors.
Leadership Strength #5: Leadership and Decision-Making
Leadership requires extraordinary decision-making capabilities, because individuals who work in leadership roles are responsible for making a seemingly endless series of decisions. They may decide which ideas to pursue, which strategies are most likely to help advance a goal, and which tasks can be delegated among team members.
They must understand how to tactically navigate “fork-in-the-road” choices in ways that minimize risk and maximize success. They must also be confident in their ability to determine options, anticipate outcomes and manage risk based on the facts at hand.
Individuals who can make decisions in complex situations are extremely valuable to any organization. In addition to understanding which strategic path will be most effective in furthering an organization’s objectives, strategic leaders create clarity in the most ambiguous of situations.
Leadership and Decision Making Skills
The following critical thinking skills are crucial to leadership and decision-making:
- Observational skills and the ability to identify factors that can influence outcomes
- Analytical skills, which can help anticipate and evaluate outcomes
- Problem solving skills, which can help leaders identify and mitigate possible consequences
- Communication skills, which help leaders be effective in explaining ideas and directives to their team
Critical thinking is a learned skill, and professionals who want to improve their critical thinking and decision-making skills can do so in a variety of ways. Examples include expanding industry-specific knowledge by subscribing to newsletters or trade publications, or taking relevant educational courses that build analysis and critical thinking. Individuals may also actively volunteer to solve problems for their employer or for non-business organizations that serve people in need.
Critical thinking skills can also be enhanced by seeking out diversity and collaboration. As noted earlier, business leaders are responsible for making numerous decisions each day. It is imperative to know when to make a unilateral, command decision and when to seek input from colleagues and staff. Developing the ability to remain calm under pressure and trust the team is also a must.
Learn How to Become an Effective Leader
Great organizations need great leaders, and professionals who aspire to take on leadership positions in an organization must start by developing the skills and competencies to be effective.
Rider University’s online Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership (MAOL) program is designed to teach students how to fine tune their leadership capabilities in ways that can help them improve organizational efficiency and refine operations. The program’s deep curriculum prepares graduates to integrate communication skills and business expertise, to bring clarity to organizations of all sizes in both the public and private sectors.
Are you ready to take your career to the next level? Discover how the Rider University online Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership program can help you achieve your professional goals.