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It’s tempting to think people are “born leaders,” and it’s true that some people inherently have certain traits that help them lead. By and large, though, leadership is a learned skill.
Those who are in leadership positions, including business owners, must develop their executive talent if they want to grow into strong leaders. With that in mind, here are four critical leadership lessons that all business owners need to learn.
1. Remember the golden rule.
Everyone knows the “golden rule”: Treat others as you want to be treated. This isn’t just a way to live life. It’s an important part of being a good leader.
A quality leader always puts those they are leading ahead of themselves. They consider their needs and invest in caring for their employees. This leads to loyal workers who are willing to buy into a business and help it thrive.
Leadership coach and business success specialist Marissa Andrada is a major proponent of focusing on team members. She even takes the concept of the golden rule up a notch. For example, her mantra reads, “Being kind is infectious and is the foundation for the willingness to give; always lead with kindness and never forget the Platinum Rule: Treat people the way THEY want to be treated!”
The platinum rule shifts the focus away from leaders looking out for themselves. It highlights the subtle distinction that good leaders bring the most out of their team members by giving as well as receiving.
A business owner may expect their employees to pour into the company. However, if they want employees to be productive workers, leaders must reciprocate by also paying deliberate and intentional attention to their needs. Putting others ahead of yourself, while not rocket science, can be counterintuitive human nature. But true leaders master this concept.
2. Learn to communicate as a leader.
Communication makes the workplace go ’round. In a remote-first work world, it’s more important than ever that professionals understand how to communicate with others both on-site and off-site—and leaders must set the tone for good communication.
Leaders must be the first ones to communicate and collaborate with others effectively. They should practice active listening and be able to demonstrate empathy. They should leave their employees feeling heard and understood.
Healthy communication goes beyond basic words and instructions too. Leaders must also be adept at understanding their own emotions and others’ emotions—something referred to as emotional intelligence (EQ).
Harvard Business School highlights four components of emotional intelligence:
- Self-awareness is the understanding of your emotions at any given moment.
- Self-management is the ability to control and regulate your emotions.
- Social awareness is the skill of gauging the emotional condition of others around you.
- Relationship management is the activity of regulating and managing interpersonal emotions.
As the boss of your business, high EQ is essential. By working on emotional awareness and management for yourself and others, you can enhance your ability to mitigate conflict, improve employee well-being (see lesson No. 1) and navigate your team’s interactions at work.
3. Practice being decisive.
Leaders need to make decisions. This requires the ability to be decisive. Unfortunately, this isn’t always easy—especially in business. Even in a data-driven world, you rarely have all the facts.
Business owners must use whatever information is available to make educated guesses. Then, as the owner, they must assume the risks and accept the consequences.
This makes it easy to second-guess yourself and hesitate, even in a crisis. However, good leaders learn how to be decisive. This doesn’t mean they know what’s right—not by a long shot.
Motivational speaker Tony Robbins’ team explains what makes a person decisive, saying, “Being a decisive person isn’t about always being right. It’s about knowing that even when you’re wrong, you will come out a better person.”
A good leader embraces each decision as a crisis point. You assess what you have, consider outcomes and then make the best decision possible. After that, you look for ways to learn and grow from the results, which leads to the next point.
4. Leaders embody a growth mindset.
Leaders should always be seeking to improve themselves. They should be self-aware enough to know that they don’t have all of the answers and can always become better through continual learning.
To be effective, this must be more than a mantra. It requires being open to (and, at times, even seeking) feedback from others. You must also be willing to adapt and remain flexible as the needs of your business change.
This willingness to grow is often referred to as a “growth mindset.” However, Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., who coined the term, is careful to clarify that this is more than just a buzzword. “I often discover that people have a limited understanding of the idea,” she said.
Common misconceptions include assuming you already have a growth mindset or that growth is just about praising effort. Simply wishing for a growth mindset doesn’t automatically mean good things will transpire.
Dweck encourages leaders who aspire to a growth mindset to watch out for fixed-mindset triggers. These are circumstances in which you slip right into a negative mindset, such as becoming defensive when criticized.
Good leaders look for their fixed-mindset triggers. Then, they work to become more aware of how they can maintain a mindset of growth and continual learning.
Learning to lead
Quality leadership requires many unique traits. This list didn’t even touch on common characteristics of leaders, such as confidence, problem-solving or integrity. However, these four lessons are critical starting points. They are cornerstone elements of good leadership that can turn an aspiring business owner into a fearless leader who can rally others behind them as they seek to take their company to the next level.