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How to Improve Leadership Skills in Business

inspiring leadership

No matter what type of business you’re in – investing, strategic advisory, financial management, legal advisory…there is always value in improving your leadership skills. Not only is it crucial for personal and professional development, but your immediate and extended teams will benefit from your honed leadership skills through your example, as well as the tactics you implement.

What is Leadership?

Before diving into actual tactics to improve leadership skills – let’s talk about what “leadership” actually is, from those who know a thing or two about leadership:

John Maxwell says leadership is…

“…influence – nothing more, nothing less.”

Warren Bennis says leadership is…

“…the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

Martin Luther King Jr. says leadership is…

“…not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower says leadership is…

“…the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

It’s unlikely that anyone who knows anything about leadership could disagree with the above statements. To me, leadership is a way one conducts themselves that inspires others to work towards a common goal. It is a powerful thing in any business, because if a group of people are working together, happily, towards a common goal, the organization will be able to achieve what it set out to achieve in a much faster and more efficient way than if there was a lack of good leadership within the organization.

The Key: Vision and Values

The key to leading any organization – a venture capital firm, a law firm, a startup company, a fund, or a non-profit, requires a firm understanding of the following:

  • The Vision – WHERE the organization is trying to go, and WHY.
  • The Values – The guiding principles of HOW the organization will realize its vision.

Now, the leading founders are typically the individuals who would establish the vision and values of their organization. However, many companies lack this. Now, a company can survive under a leadership that is lacking, but it’s unlikely it will ever thrive, or reach its full potential.

Leadership on Every Level – Management vs. Leadership

If you’re in a position of authority (i.e. a founder, executive, manager, etc.) in order to ensure your new company or organization is on the right track from the start, make sure you have a vision and values in place that everyone at the top agrees upon. Write them down, share them with your team and employees, and live by them. Everything your organization does on a day-to-day basis should be working towards the vision through efforts that demonstrate the organization’s values.

If you’re not in a position of authority (i.e. a non-managerial position), you can still very much be a part of ensuring the company you’re working with is seeing out their vision. How? By asking questions. What is the vision of the company? What are our values? Does everyone know them? Is this project we’re working on in line with both? Asking these types of questions may require some courage, but leadership is not a top-down practice. Leadership is up, down, and side to side.

Questions to Ask Yourself as a Manager

If you are interested in improving your leadership skills from a position of authority, consider yourself asking the following questions:

1. Are my employees happy?

This question may not seem like a typical leadership question, but unhappy employees tend to be unhappy because they don’t feel like their work is purposeful. Happy employees work with a common purpose in mind. A good way to gauge the happiness of the people in your organization is to engage in open and honest conversations. If you aren’t engaging with them face to face on a regular basis, it might be time to carve out time for that.

2. Am I listening as much as I’m talking?

As a manager, it’s easy to constantly be talking at your team. However, good leaders always leave enough time in the conversation to ask questions, and hear out the thoughts and opinions of the team. Next time you run a meeting, ask yourself – did I listen just as much as I spoke? Walter Schindler speaks on the art of listening in this former blog post.

3. At any point in time, can all my employees recite the organization vision and values?

If a stranger walked into your organization and asked at random team members – what is the vision of this company? What does this company value?  – would they all be able to answer correctly? The only way to get where you want to go is to make sure your team, from top to bottom, knows WHERE the organization is trying to go, and HOW everyone is going to get there.

Questions to Ask Yourself as an Employee

If you’re not in a position of high authority, here are the questions you can ask yourself to determine whether you’re leading up (inspiring your higher-ups), and sideways (inspiring your colleagues).

1. Do you understand the WHY of your job?

At the end of the day, you go to work everyday to collect a paycheck. But we wouldn’t last long if we didn’t feel that our work everyday had a purpose. Ask yourself, what is the WHY of this organization, and what is my WHY for what I do daily? If the answer does not come easily to you, it might be time to sit down with your superior and ask them what they believe what the WHY is – it all comes down to effective communication. Your inquiry could inspire change for the organization.

2. Are you challenging practices that just don’t make sense?

Are their activities or processes in your workplace that you don’t understand? Going back to #1 above, communication with the authority figures in your place of work goes a long way. If there are things that you believe a process could be done better, discuss it. Again, this takes courage, but in order to grow as a leader, you have to abandon the fear of having difficult conversations.

3. Do your words and actions inspire others?

We spend at least 40 hours a week at our jobs which means we probably spend more time with co-workers than we do with our family. What kind of impact do you think you have on the people that you work with? Are you encouraging them? Do you inspire them to do better? To ask good questions? Do you lead by example? These are all things to consider as you look at this question more deeply. Inspiring others and encouraging others to act is key in leading those around you, regardless of their authority or power.

If you want to continue learning more about how to be a better leader in business, here are the top three books I suggest to start with:

  1. “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker
  2. “The Leadership Challenge” by James Kouzes and Barry Posner
  3. “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek
April 17, 2019

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