Hard work, dedication, and excelling at your job can help earn you a big promotion at work. Being promoted to a director, supervisor or vice president usually means a higher salary, a bigger office, and more decision-making power. The perks of a leadership position also come with the important responsibility of managing employees. But let’s face it – being an effective leader takes a lot of hard work, commitment and focus not everyone is willing, or able, to give.
Do you have what it takes to be an effective leader? Joseph Fusco, a vice president at Casella Waste Systems, Inc., and a member of the Board of Advisors for the University of Vermont’s Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA program, offers five tips on becoming a valuable leader.
5 Tips to Build Effective Leadership Skills
Can You Handle the Truth?
Fusco says at the very core of leadership is a love affair with the truth — an ability to know who you are and to be honest with yourself. Look in the mirror and ask yourself what motivates you. Examine with clear eyes how you behave. Understand deeply the impact your behavior has on the people around you.
“This is very, very hard to do. We human beings have an incredible capacity to lie to ourselves. Also, we judge ourselves differently than others do,” Fusco says. “The problem we have is that we judge ourselves by our intentions, but the people in our lives judge us by our impact. We see ourselves through our heart, but others see us by our hands – our actions. A lot of the time, our actions are not pure reflections of our intentions, and we have an impact on other people we don’t mean to, or we’re not even aware of.”
In order to be an effective leader, you need to be in love with the truth of what your impact is on other people. “Ask yourself ‘Do I really know myself? Do I really know how I behave? Do I truly understand the impact of my actions?’” Fusco says. “If you are disconnected from this reality, your weaknesses as a leader go uncorrected and remain a significant and growing threat to your effectiveness.”
“Think about it this way,” Fusco says. “Everyone around you already knows the truth about you, and your impact on them. Your refusal to acknowledge it, or understand it, doesn’t make it less true or make it go away. It just makes you less effective as a leader.”
Understand the True Definition of Leadership
Leadership isn’t about having a big office, a big salary, an impressive title, and taking all the credit, Fusco says. “Leadership is really about how great you are at making other people great at what they do,” he says. “You depend almost completely on the problem solving abilities of other people when you are leading. Who you are as a person and how well you hire, coach, and treat people determines the level of skill and passion they bring to solving your organization’s daily problems. In essence, a leader is really the conductor of a problem-solving orchestra.”
Fusco points out that just because you are very good at a particular job – accounting, information technology, marketing, for example – doesn’t mean you will be a good leader. Leadership is an entirely different job. However, companies generally hire or promote people for leadership positions for their technical expertise, and not their management or people skills.
“Companies make this mistake all the time,” Fusco says. “Being a great accountant or a great salesperson has absolutely nothing to do with whether someone should be leading accountants and salespeople. What aspiring leaders and their employers need to understand is that any manager’s success comes mainly from how he or she understands and treats people, rather than just their technical skills.”
Study The Best and Worst Leaders
If you are interested in doing well in a leadership position, Fusco says it’s important to study the behaviors of the best and worst leaders you ever knew, or worked for. One method is to make a list of a few dozen behaviors and characteristics for each type of leader — good, and bad.
What made some bosses good, and others not so good? How did they make you feel? What was their leadership style? How did they communicate, how did they give you feedback? Were they micromanagers, or did they trust you? Did they embrace new ideas, or were they afraid of change?
Study those lists, Fusco says. Then, make it your mission in life to practice and adopt the habits and behaviors of those people on your “best leader” list.
Fusco adds that he has noticed that the difference between great leaders and poor leaders is that great leaders put the vast majority of their energy and focus into the quality of the solutions to their problems and don’t focus so much on their own psychological needs. “Bad leaders frantically chase — at the expense of nearly everything and everyone else — their deepest psychological needs all day. Like getting and keeping control, or getting credit, or trying to make everyone happy. Solving problems well often comes in a distant second,” he says.
Keep People Around You Who’ll Tell You The Truth
When you become a leader, it’s important to regularly ask for feedback from mentors, peers and staff members.
“You want to ask them constantly, ‘how am I doing? What are my strengths and weaknesses?’” Fusco says. “In seeking feedback, your goal should be to never be defensive, or to rationalize your behavior or impacts. Why? Because your defensiveness causes people lie to you, and to be lied to — to be disconnected from the truth — is a leadership death spiral. Someone I was lucky to have in my life once told me, ‘feedback is the breakfast of champions.’ It’s absolutely central to your love affair with the truth. You have to crave feedback – the good and the bad. And guess what? There is no such thing as bad feedback.”
Continue to Grow and Learn
As leaders approach or reach the top of the pyramid, Fusco says, there is a tendency for many to stop thinking how to evolve and improve. “Too many leaders become a victim of their own success. The danger is that you become too pleased with yourself — ‘I made it to the top, so I must be a great leader.’ And, tragically, that’s an easy excuse to stop growing and learning the inexhaustible art of leadership.”
Great leaders are also always working on themselves in three key areas — their heart, their head, and their hands. “You need all three – character, competence and consistency,” he says. “Ask yourself what you’re learning about the beliefs and values of a great leader. Do you understand intellectually what great leaders do, and how they behave? And do you work every day to put those beliefs and that knowledge into practice? In short, do you do the right things? Do you do them very well? And do you do them every day?”
“The best leaders in the world always pursue the mastery of leadership, knowing that while they’ll never achieve perfection, there’s always something to improve, to learn, to adapt to,” Fusco says. “You continue to evolve because you want to be the best leader you can absolutely, possibly be.”