We all know that the right kind of leadership can transform lives, businesses, and communities.
So when it comes to owning a business, if you want to successfully build a strong, fast-growing, healthy company, you need to be a highly effective leader.
And you can’t create a great business without the support of your team. AND your team is looking for guidance, support, and direction.
Without strong, effective leadership, employees flounder. . . Your employees deeply desire the guidance that comes from a real, tangible purpose. If you are not consistently reinforcing the vision and expectations for your business, things can quickly start to fall apart.
Eventually, growth and profits will suffer. And no one wants to see that happen!
To help you keep your sales and profits strong, I want to share three themes of effective leadership I’ve discovered while working with hundreds of business owners in numerous industries.
1. Effective Leaders Consistently Advance Thought
There may be a lot of good ideas floating around that can help take your company to the next level. But are you doing enough to make sure that those ideas are successfully implemented?
Effective leaders do not settle for the status quo. They are always imagining new possibilities. But how do you make sure these possibilities become realities?
It’s not enough to simply come up with new ideas and dictate them to your team. Delegation is definitely important, but effective leadership requires being a real, accessible partner who works alongside his team.
So you need to involve them in the process of creating new ideas, systems, programs, products, and more. Effective leaders challenge their teams to do the same by continually creating situations where their teams are required to think outside the box. When you consistently engage your team in this process, the faster your company will evolve and grow.
You can start with monthly brainstorming sessions designed to solve specific business challenges or opportunities. With this counterintuitive method proposed by Hal Gregersen, the goal is to have everyone contribute, not by offering solutions to challenges, but by offering better questions.
According to Gregersen, “Brainstorming for questions, rather than answers, helps you avoid group dynamics that often stifle voices, and it lets you reframe problems in ways that spur breakthrough thinking.”
I’ve used this method working with many different companies and I can tell you, it’s highly effective. Traditional brainstorming tends to encourage group consensus, rather than creative, divergent thinking.
By holding the space for questions, rather than answers, you can really open up the doors to new ideas on how to approach current challenges in your business.
I was recently working with a company that wanted to increase their close rates. The sales team had created a number of suggestions on how they could alter the current sales process to increase conversions.
Working with the owner, we decided to bring this question before a cross-functional group in the business. We simply laid out the problem, “How can the XYZ company raise their sales close rate?” and asked the team to share the first questions that came to mind.
One of the team leaders asked, “Why do we need to have a sales call at all?” Another team member added, “What are we missing in our marketing that is preventing a customer from making a purchase online?”
Long story short, these types of questions helped us reframe the problem and resulted in changes to the organization that went well beyond the sales process. Ultimately, the changes we made as a result of these questions helped drive an 18% increase in the company’s close rate.
After you establish the standard format for these meetings, empower specific team members to lead these meetings and keep the momentum going.
You’ll start to not only grow your business but also grow other leaders within your company. And that means you can really start to delegate in a way that gives you the freedom to pursue other ventures and interests.
There will be less hand-holding and micromanaging and more trusting your team to lead with the vision you’ve cast for them.
2. Remove Obstacles
Effective leaders really serve their team members. Yes, there’s got to be some hierarchy, someone for where the buck ultimately stops. But as a leader, you want to make sure that your success is the team’s success, and you want to make it as easy for them as you can.
Early in my career, I took on a pretty large opportunity where I was managing close to $100M in annual revenue. Every one of my direct reports was older than me–I was in my early 20s and my direct reports were in their 40s-50s; they had been at the company longer than me; and frankly, many of them had delivered tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars in sales for the company we worked for.
The other unique factor here was the people I managed actually owned their territory. As employee-owners with an equity share in their territory, they had a great deal of independence in how they wanted to operate.
And, as you can imagine, that was really intimidating at times. I felt wanted to provide value to my team and to demonstrate that I was capable of this leadership role.
My mentor at the time had a suggestion that has stuck with me throughout the years. He suggested that I think of myself as a linebacker. My job was to protect the quarterbacks on my team so they could make the big plays.
It was a great visual and I took on that job with an attitude of service. I dedicated myself to protecting my new team and removing every obstacle that stood in their way.
Through a series of surveys and office visits that occurred during my first 60 days on the job, instead of offering a lot of insight or direction, I asked a lot of questions and listened. I also dove deep into the data, looking for trends that would point the way to how I could best support this diverse team of business leaders. (For more on crowdsourcing great ideas from your employees, check out this article.)
Ultimately, the surveys and data helped me identify 5 key areas where I could provide the most desired and effective support to 17 diverse territories. This approach allowed me to base my leadership on what my employees needed, whether it was through providing trainings, product development, or creating new systems.
Not only did I quickly win the trust and admiration of my team, but they performed like never before. Our division grew by leaps and bounds and lead the company in sales growth for two years in a row.
When you take challenges head on to protect your team, they notice and will go the extra mile to make the plays for you. Servant leadership will not only endear your team members to you, but it will effectively grow your business.
3. Over Communicate
Yes, I said over communicate! Honestly, I have never met a business owner who has over communicated with their team.
But let me be clear. Over-communication isn’t micromanaging or overloading your team with a bunch of extra, irrelevant information. What I mean is giving your employees the information that they need so that they can do their jobs better.
And that may mean making yourself a little more vulnerable than you’re used to.
Most business owners keep a lot of information pretty close to the chest. The fear is that if they’re transparent about how the company is doing, along with where and how they want to lead their company, then everyone will just put their hand out asking for a piece of the action.
The fact is, your team is hungry to know how their performance is impacting company performance. They also want to know how your company is doing overall and what you have planned for the future.
And why shouldn’t they know? They do have a stake in how the business is doing, even if it’s just to know that they’ll get their paychecks on time.
You may think you’re the face of your company, but so are your employees. The buck may stop with you, but you really are all in this together. So if you want to increase your team’s loyalty, consider lowering the veil that separates you from them. In the process, you may save yourself from implementing the wrong kind of “no-brainer” solutions.
The Right and Wrong Kind of “No-Brainer” Solutions
I worked with a company that did a ton of sales on the phone. We were helping them with their marketing and saw a huge correlation between the number of inbound phone calls and sales results. This trend went back over a two-year period. So naturally, the business owner wanted us to do whatever we could to drive more phone calls.
So we started optimizing their sales and marketing funnel, to get more phone calls on the books. And at the time, it seemed like a no-brainer, but it was only after talking to the sales manager that we realized that phone calls that happened after a certain point in the marketing funnel were three times more effective than those that came in earlier.
That certain place in the funnel was a webinar where people got educated on the product and had a lot of common questions answered. So the strategy of trying to drive more phone calls prior to the webinar was not effective.
But we went ahead with that strategy without involving the sales manager, because it seemed like a no-brainer. But after the sales manager pointed this out to us, it was a no-brainer that it was the wrong strategy.
From that experience, I was reminded how important it was to involve more of a business’s team members–not just the higher-ups–in strategizing and planning efforts. U.P.S. used a similar strategy that leads to huge optimizations in their delivery routes.
When you set up regular, consistent updates on the company and employee performance with your team, they will thrive. Even a small amount of transparency can go a long way to creating highly engaged employees who will go the extra mile to help your company exceed its goals.
Real leadership doesn’t look like some know-it-all from on high, barking orders to his staff. It looks like partnership, inclusiveness, and empowerment. And if you follow these three tips on how to be an effective leader, your business will grow easily, and you will have a tighter, more effective team help your business reach new heights.