By Christine Willow
An important skill in life and business is learning to be an effective leader. The leadership style of business owners, managers and even parents, can set the tone for and impact the day-to-day activities of everyone in the leader’s sphere of influence. The definition of a leader means different things to people. For me, leadership is about demonstrating the behavior that is expected, being there to provide support as needed, allowing people to have small failures but knowing when to step in to assist, and having the courage to make hard decisions when required.
Throughout my career in the hospitality and consulting industries, and as a business owner, I have always held firm to the belief that I do not need to be the best at something to be able to lead effectively; rather, a key contribution that I can make is to bring out the best in others.
As a first step, I believe it is important to understand my team’s strengths and skills, to recognize gaps, and to assess how I can best support my team to reach objectives. I confess that it does not always come easily to me to sit back and observe my team in action, particularly when I know how to do a task better or quicker. However, by not interfering, I’ve learned that my team may have ways of getting the job done that are just as effective as mine, plus I’ve allowed people the chance to grow and reach their potential.
As a leader, it is my role to ensure that people have the tools they need to do their job. My team knows that I am there for them to discuss issues or bounce ideas off. And, when things don’t go as planned, I work with people to find out why a problem occurred and how it can be corrected or avoided altogether in the future. I believe that creativity is hindered if people feel they are not allowed to make mistakes. What is important is how mistakes are dealt with after the fact – have lessons been learned and corrections made? As a leader I also make mistakes and, when I do, I need to be able to say “I was wrong”. All of us will be wrong at some point but this does not make us any less of a leader.
Leadership also means recognizing when it is time to make a staffing change. Even with support, not everyone will be successful. It can be as simple as the right person in the wrong position. If you avoid staffing decisions that are difficult or unpleasant and allow either bad behavior or performance to continue, it will negatively affect everyone and, ultimately, your business. I believe that employees look to their leaders to have the courage to make tough decisions – but in a professional manner.
So, what does leadership mean to me? Walk the talk, create an environment of trust which allows people at all levels the opportunity to contribute, take corrective action when needed, and be willing to adjust your style to suit your team and business circumstances. Having said all this, after six decades of living, I know I still have much to learn about being a great leader.