How to be an empowering leader

Words of Wilson will teach you each month to better understand, develop and manage your most valuable resource – your people.

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Some people seem born with “it” – the elusive factor that makes people stand out from the crowd. To most of us, however, charisma (Greek for gift) and leadership don’t come naturally.

In my consulting business, I’ve watched different types of people and personalities develop into really good leaders. And what I’ve observed is that those who succeed in transitioning from manager to leader share similar traits: they are not afraid to challenge the status quo, they think beyond what’s possible and they are never satisfied unless they learn and achieve something new every day.

Healthy businesses need both great managers and great leaders. If you are empowering others to lead or seek to strengthen your own leadership, these 12 things can guide you:

  1. Seek to understand the many moving parts of your company and make decisions that benefit the whole organization.
  2. Let go of “hero management.” Hire, train and empower your people to solve problems and become leaders within their own departments.
  3. Identify a clear vision. Communicate big ideas, long-term goals and growth objectives; invite dialogue, focus vision and energy, and delegate the details.
  4. Lead by example. Be the dynamic and energizing role model you want your brand to represent, your employees to emulate and your new hires to aspire to.
  5. Create mutually satisfying goals: be a value and opportunity creator.
  6. Inspire trust, release control and invite others to step up regardless of job title or role.
  7. Challenge mediocrity and create an agenda for continuous improvement.
  8. Foster a blameless culture and be open to contrary views. Eliminate “yes men” and “yes women” from your inner circle and get the input you need, even when it’s uncomfortable.
  9. Show people that they matter, that their contributions make a difference and that they are part of why you and your company are a success.
  10. Your employees want to know what you are thinking, they want to hear your vision for the company’s future as well as their own future. Any time that you address your employees whether it be a whole company meeting or a simple staff meeting, prepare your thoughts ahead of time. Do not just wing it. Make what you say count.
  11. If you see something wrong on a jobsite or in the office, address it immediately with the appropriate manager, not the employee.
  12. Show people you believe in them. Get to know your employees and what interests and motivates them. Seek to understand and empower their character, intelligence and professional strengths that will contribute to their success.

I’ve always believed in healthy bottom lines, but I also think that the overall health and well-being of your company is more than just healthy profits. There is growing evidence, in my business and in those I’ve observed, that being a great leader demands strength and agility. Having a nimble mind, staying physically fit, pushing your boundaries, and pursuing a discipline that stretches your ability and your imagination will improve both your stamina and your company’s stamina for the challenges that lie ahead.

My first job in this industry was as a tree climber. As I shifted from technical roles and rose into leadership, I know from experience it’s not easy. Especially when I ended up running a business that required me to teach others how to lead and set direction for the group. The one thing I always emphasized was that leadership is earned, it is not something bestowed upon you by title. There is no right answer and it’s often trial and error. The one constant that has worked for me, and I’ve seen it work for others, is that at every step of the way, you behave like the leader you want to be. Like making a good first impression, you need to have the right mindset, carry responsibility and always be humble.

Bruce Wilson is principal of green industry consulting firm Bruce Wilson & Company.

April 2018
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