Growing up, the only business role model I had was my dad. He was wildly successful and ruled his company with an iron fist. He led with fear, and people in his wake were often left shaking in their figurative boots.
His motto was, “Look out for number one.” As you can probably tell, this motto was not based on the pre-flight safety demonstration that instructs passengers to put on their own oxygen masks before helping others. My father did whatever was best for him without considering how it might hurt those around him.
I remember visiting his office on rare occasions as a child. Sometimes he was there, and other times, he was not. When he was not in the office, there was a great energy and buzz. People were relaxed and happy while getting their work done. When he was around, no one would speak to each other unless they absolutely needed to. It was a very stressful vibe, to say the least. I thought that this was normal and okay (and boy, was I wrong).
During my first week of college, a business management professor asked my section, “How do you lead if you want to be successful?” My hand shot up and I shared my “wisdom” that you need to lead with fear so that people will respect you. I still remember the look on the professor’s face … disbelief, mixed with, “Wow, you must be a spoiled brat, Sandy.” I remember feeling embarrassed, but not quite understanding why I felt that way. My dad was successful, he led with fear, and he demanded “respect.” Was there actually another way?
As I started my professional life, I noticed that workplaces came in two general varieties: the cutthroat kind like my dad’s company, where it is all about the leader and a few at the top getting their way, or the collaborative kind we enjoy at The Simons Group, where we work together for the good of the team, the company and our clients. Here are some of the lessons that I have learned throughout my career. They have made me a better leader, and I hope they can do the same for you:
- Aim to bring out the best in others. No leader’s job is to be the smartest one in the room. To accomplish anything noteworthy, you have to trust and involve other people who are smarter than you in their areas of expertise. As a leader, you need to collaborate with and foster talent in other people, which can sometimes be a difficult feat. My advice is to find and appreciate what makes everyone different and nurture those differences to bring out the best in others. Ultimately, you’ll make the team stronger as a unit.
- Be objective, not emotional. Problems and the stress that they bring are daily occurrences in life and in business. While it may be tempting to fly off the handle and react emotionally, try not to. This emotional response can often compound your problems. My suggestion is to take a step back and wait until your emotions have subsided so you can look at the situation objectively. This cooling-off period may take an hour or an entire week — take as much time as you need to ensure that you are looking at the whole picture. Using this approach will help you actually tackle the problem, rather than adding fuel to the fire.
- Be kind to earn respect. There’s nothing more unappealing than acting like you are superior. Airs of superiority will only get you so far if you are trying to lead a team. Instead, try treating others with kindness, even if they don’t return the favor. Some people will appreciate the kindness you show and may respond in the same manner. While you won’t be able to please everyone, being nice will gain you respect from more of your peers.
What are your tips for being a great leader? Let us know in the comments below.