How to be a brilliant leader

Paper boats demonstrating leadership

Leadership isn’t a certificate you stick up on your wall – it’s an ongoing journey of self-improvement. Great leadership is all about empowering, enabling and inspiring your team – and knowing when to step back or step in. Read on to discover why a leader’s most important attribute of all is self-awareness…

Even if you’re just beginning your entrepreneurial journey and you don’t yet have a team, it’s not too soon to start polishing your leadership skills. Before you open for business, you’ll probably need to inspire your investors, your board members and your potential clients – and that takes leadership.

What makes someone a leader?

No matter the size of your team or how many years of leadership you have (or don’t have), anyone can be a leader.

Having the title ‘Manager’ or ‘Leader’ doesn’t mean you are either of those things. True leadership is not connected to a title but is connected to behaviour and how you ‘show up’ for your team.

Leadership is not reserved for those at the top of large organisations – we all can, and should, instil daily leadership practice.

What’s the difference between managing and leading?

Managing is about being a good boss. Are you great at hiring? Are you great at goal setting? Do you give your teams the tools to get their job done?

Leading is about empowering, enabling and inspiring. Are you stretching yourself and your team to think bigger, beyond, and more strategically?

Combining both leadership and management techniques skilfully is the ideal to aim for. This gives you big-picture awareness and also lets you drill down into the fundamentals. For example, it’s all very well being able to talk strategy for hours, but if you can’t have a conversation about a salary increase, your style of leadership will be unsustainable. Skipping these steps erodes a leader’s authority and loses the team’s trust and respect.

Do you know your leadership style?

There’s no fixed ‘right’ way to show up for your team. Your unique approach will reflect who you are as a person – and you have the freedom to choose and develop a style that works for you. As you’re finding your way with this, it’s important to keep checking in to gauge if your approach is working. Is your style of leadership succeeding in driving your team towards the business’s goals and strategy? If so, that’s great.

But if you’re noticing that you’re having the same conversations over again – or things aren’t progressing or flowing, take time to reflect and consider if you need to make a shift in your style. The following exercise might help…

Leadership reality check

Whether you’re a startup or a well-seasoned leader, this 360-degree review can help you understand yourself better and consider if you need to shift. Put aside a little time each week to reflect on these questions:

  • How are you showing up?
  • What’s giving you energy?
  • What’s draining your energy?
  • How are you communicating and connecting?

Are you getting in your own way?

When anxiety or ‘imposter syndrome’ creeps in, it’s tempting to want to regain a feeling of security by reverting to operational tasks (despite knowing you should really be delegating these). Although these tasks are familiar, demonstrate tangible progress and make you feel useful, doing them yourself is not good for business.

It’s all too common for leaders to obstruct business progress in this way but it’s important to let go and delegate – otherwise your business won’t grow. A good indicator that you’re getting it right is finding you have time on your hands. Counterintuitive as it may sound, having spare time is a healthy sign that you are leading.

Your biggest superpower of all? Self-awareness…

A core value of leadership is self-awareness. The more you develop this, the more confident and fluid you’ll be in adapting to what your teams need, whilst remaining true to yourself.

One of the first things to realise is that you’re not (and shouldn’t try to be) a single source of knowledge at the top of a pyramid, responsible for all the business decisions. Once you move away from this mindset, you’ll be able to nurture successful, autonomous teams.

Another secret to leadership is understanding what motivates individuals, even it’s unrelated to their role. When people are driving towards their own personal goals, they’re happier and more motivated – and your business obviously benefits from that.

How to create a feedback loop

Feedback shouldn’t be something to dread – it’s a crucial part of building a strong team. As a leader, you need to create a ‘feedback loop’ that supports you in giving and receiving feedback constructively. This isn’t always easy. Here are some tips that might smooth your way:

Give positive feedback generously

  • Take the time and effort to recognise when the team is doing a great job – and always give praise where it is due.
  • Continually give copious amounts of positive feedback, whenever you can authentically do so.
  • Positive feedback powerfully boosts morale within your team – and it also helps to soften conversations when occasional negative feedback is needed.

Receive negative feedback gracefully

  • Consider any negative feedback – but don’t dwell on it. Feedback is just a perspective and perspectives vary.
  • It takes courage for people to come to you with negative feedback. If you defend, deny or blame in the heat of the moment, you’ll close that feedback loop – and your team will no longer feel comfortable voicing their opinions.
  • If negative feedback hits you hard, don’t react. Listen, breathe, go home, vent, self-soothe and reflect. Even if you don’t agree with the feedback, consider why you may have received it. Do you have a blind spot?
  • Appreciate yourself for being the type of leader whose team is comfortable giving difficult feedback.

This how-to guide was inspired by one of our live Zoom Dives – with world-renowned transformational leadership expert, Gillian Davis – founder of OverTime Leader.

Zoom Dives are deep-delving discussions between our founder, Carolyn Dailey and hand-picked business experts from the creative world. You can listen to Carolyn and Gillian’s full discussion here.

Fancy catching our next Zoom Dive, live? See our Events calendar and sign up for free.

Meanwhile, feel free to plunder our Knowledge bank for more advice on polishing your people skills.