The influence of leaders on their environment, and the people around them, is difficult to overstate. Like magnetism, their disposition and decisions tend to affect everybody in the vicinity. If you’re a leader, it’s a good idea to remember some of the many ways you can influence company culture — sometimes without even trying to. Here are some of them.
Be a more ‘intentional’ leader
Being an “intentional” leader means behaving in such a way that the intent behind your actions isn’t difficult for others to discern. It’s very easy for leaders of any kind to let their “mission” consume their personality. But what do you love and serve beyond the mission? Do your people look at you and see a genuine passion for what work and life have to offer, or do they see somebody else who’s just running out the clock? The difference can make, well, a huge difference.
Share your vision
There is kind of a balance you’ll have to find — somewhere between thinking and planning strategically while remaining accessible and transparent. Within that balance is a leader’s ability to share their vision of the future with those who work for them, along with their infectious optimism and clear-mindedness about the obstacles and challenges in the way. Sharing your vision for the near future as well as the longer-term is a great way to keep up motivation and buy-in from your team, and it helps them remember that the work of the day always serves something larger.
Make your vision collaborative
Sharing your vision with the people who report to you is just the first in two related steps. After sharing, your next job is to ensure the mission is a shared and fully collaborative one.
There’s no mistaking a workplace where upper management keeps to themselves and makes decisions in a vacuum. Even if the rest of the company understands the broad strokes of the organization’s current trajectory, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being included in decisions of consequence. As a leader, and as your strategy is coming together, you should be including as many people as possible, especially heads of departments, to help ensure the decisions being made at the top aren’t causing consternation down below.
Foster trust by remaining dependable
People like knowing what to expect when they’re dealing with others. As a leader in the workplace or anywhere else, do people know what they can count on when they’re counting on you? Staying true to your word isn’t just a good idea for your own reputation and success, however. It’s also basically square one when it comes to creating a trusting environment. If you lead by example, you’ll find traits like consistency and reliability can spread as fast as anything else.
There’s so much to see, do and learn about in the world. Our overwhelming choices, when it comes to how best to spend our time, means most of us learn respect early in life for people who do much with little time, who regularly improve their skills or who seem to throw themselves into several meaningful pastimes and hobbies.
You can inspire the people around you to learn about and explore the world around them by teaching yourself new skills, becoming conversant in new topics or just practicing an inspiring craft or hobby in your off-hours. Who knows who you’ll inspire? Any organization can benefit from members who are better-rounded and more inquisitive souls.
Don’t be afraid (or ashamed) of failure
There’s a strong instinct in all of us to hide our flaws and mistakes away, lest others think less of us. At the risk of stating the obvious, concealing harm or denying responsibility is wrong on all sorts of levels. But don’t be ashamed of minor failures and setbacks, either.
Having frank discussions about failure can open the door to extremely rewarding breakthroughs and collaborations. But if you’re toiling away by yourself, worried about what others will think if something goes a little astray from the plan, you might be leaving valuable insights and contributions on the table. You can let even missteps and unanswered questions point a way forward.
Take more risks
It can be difficult to find a lot of inspiration in leaders and figures who play it safe or by the rules all the time. This is a little different from the fear of failure we just talked about. There, you might be paralyzed into immobility by worrying about how something might turn out. Here, we’re talking about a leader who might be performing perfectly “adequately.” But that’s the problem.
Adequate isn’t exciting, and it doesn’t get things done. What you should be doing as a leader is provoking new ways of thinking, experimenting fearlessly and stoking your organization’s boundless creative energy.
Roll with the punches
Many people quote, but few people live by, the advice to “change what needs changing” while “making peace with what cannot change.” There are a lot of things in our workplaces and organizations that can’t change — and also a great deal that probably doesn’t actually have to.
Whenever people work in proximity with one another, compromise is necessary and inevitable. Leaders can try to keep a white-knuckled grip on everything under their roof, or they can learn to give ground where they can afford to give it.
Be clear about expectations
Although a spirit of “meeting in the middle” is often the easiest way to create a harmonious environment, as a leader, sometimes ambiguity just isn’t okay. You want the people reporting to you to expect a certain spirit of ecumenism, but if there are some things you don’t want changed or if there are some goals that are much less flexible than others, communicating clearly and effectively today can avoid problems tomorrow.
Know when to cede leadership
One of the most interesting leadership stories was Elon Musk’s abdication of the Tesla chairmanship. We might blame any number of people and events, but the fact remains: Musk knew his moment had arrived to hand the reins to somebody else.
Some leaders get long in the tooth without even knowing it and end up overstaying their welcome. Others stay in their posts until their twilight years because they’re just that well liked. At the end of the day, leadership means above all recognizing a new crop of leaders and gracefully standing down when the time comes.
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