The practice of leadership

I have talked a great deal about how leadership can be learned, and the key element is to practice.

Granted, this is much easier said than done and if you are new to a leadership role, you might be wondering where to begin, other than taking formal training.

For those of you in this situation, allow me to provide five concrete ideas on what to do in the immediate to start your journey towards leadership.

Recruitment is key. In addition to skills and abilities and qualifications linked to the job, look for people who are interesting in learning and growing.

From my experience, more important than technical abilities is someone who has a good work ethic, and someone who is geared towards positivity.

You might be able to get a sense of their work ethic by discussing aspects of the job you know any candidate might not enjoy and see their reaction, especially their body language.

Every job I have ever come across has aspects that people might not enjoy, yet they are still apart of the expectations and still need to be done well.

As for positivity, present a challenge and see if they find the difficult in it, or do they see the opportunity and propose potential solutions.

Linked to recruitment is the size of your immediate team.

It is not always possible yet directly leading a team of more than eight people can be exponentially challenging.

Again, from experience, I have found a ratio of 1-5, leader to direct reports to be preferential for getting stuff done.

Next, work as hard as possible to clarify roles and responsibilities, even down to tasks.

And, create a document listing everything with a primary role responsible, a back-up and even a second back-up for high-risk essential tasks like payroll.

You can also take this list and circulate it to internal clients who interact or depend on the work of your team.

Third, treat people with dignity and respect.

Let me repeat, treat people with dignity and respect.

I say this knowing and have witnessed firsthand the complete opposite.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t hear about stories of leadership not treating people with dignity and respect.

A good example is micromanagement.

To me, micromanagement that is done purposely and consciously is dehumanizing.

Moreover, constant yelling, emotional outbursts, punishing honest mistakes can be added to that list and again, it might seem so obvious, yet I hear about it all the time.

Quite simply, don’t do it.

Apply to yourself first what you would apply to those that you are leading.

Next, cut down on the layers of approvals needed to get work done.

Look towards having systems that encourage autonomy.

Identify the few high-risk elements that need discussion yet then allow for all other elements to be under the portfolio of the appropriate staff member.

You could also propose a simple strategic approach of less steps, less forms, less time, and better quality as a guiding principle.

That said, define expressly what quality looks like in measurable and tangible terms.

Lastly, measure before and after to ensure you know your current state and at the end of the day, the future state can be compared to the past so that everyone can see the results of their efforts.

The caveat to this is to measure what matters.

For example, in a call centre, it might be more important to measure how many callers’ problems were solved versus the length of the call.

For a team leader, it might be as simple as how many “thank you for helping me with…,” mentions received from the team in a given month. The more specific the description, the better.

For a non-profit, it might be important to measure outcomes of your programs and not just how many people signed-up for your program.

From the list above, you can see that none of what I am suggesting costs a great deal of money, just a matter of your time.

You don’t have to wait until you take formal leadership training to start your practice of leadership.