Investing in Leadership

Most people can identify effective leadership when they see it, interact with it, and work with it. We know how great leaders manage crisis situations or how they inspire greatness in their teams. The great debate on whether leaders are born or made actually doesn't matter at all -- it's not about how you acquired it, it's about how you act on it that defines leadership.

I've said that leaders have to continuously learn and adapt, which means redefining your personal style to help nurture talent or improve your bottom line. As president of MAACO, I found that these behaviors work for me:

Take the Lead

Research tells us that leadership is not telling people what to do, when to do it and how to do it. Leadership requires a leader plus a group of people, a formula where the leader works to influence his team rather than direct his people.

This influence cannot be achieved blindly -- leaders must be both goal-oriented and prepared to communicate and achieve these goals with their team. According to a recent Gallup poll, creating hope for the future and helping people pave the way forward is one of the top four basic needs of followers or, in this case, of the group of people over whom you want to have social influence -- your team and employees.

Leaders must also know how their personal leadership skills can guide them and their team toward their goals. Honing your skills, and understanding the ones you have and the ones you lack, allows you to fully develop your leadership style for maximum effectiveness. Simply put, you need to maximize what you have and improve what you don't have.

The importance of mastering your style cannot be overstated. Your leadership style is your mark, your signature on the way you respond to every situation, and it influences how your team performs internally and what the public sees externally. Bottom line, it influences just that -- the bottom line.

Create Collaboration, Maintain Meritocracy

Leading is not only about doing. It is about listening, communicating, interacting and working with -- not over -- your team. It's about using your leadership power to empower everyone else.

The simplest way to promote this power is through sharing knowledge. Communicate with your team about the company's goals, vision and performance. You want them to be your brand ambassadors. It may have been best said by Peter Economy: "For communicative employees, the organizational environment must also be one that supports them by rewarding their efforts and successes and encouraging them to take risks, speak up and be opinionated."

When I began developing MAACO's vision and direction for the next five years, I actively obtained the opinions and insights of as many franchisees and colleagues as possible. This allowed me to capture their personal visions, engage their passions and, ultimately, motivate them to turn these visions into milestones because they now owned a piece of the company's future.

But it's about more than talking the talk or listening to the talk -- great leadership also involves walking the walk. The most effective leaders are suppliers of their content and distributors of their team's content and are not afraid of working directly with their team to develop that content.

Bill Keena, the general manager of the Rivers Casino, said: "When the dishes are stacked high, as a (leader) you need to roll up your sleeves and start washing them (alongside your dishwashers)."

Sometimes, you just have to "get your hands dirty," and working with your team is the best source of motivation, respect and leadership.

Recognize and Reward

Leaders must also recognize the employees who are bold and trusting enough to provide their opinions, insights and ideas. These employees cannot be taken for granted, not only because it is hard to take the step into the spotlight, but also because these are the employees that are really listening, growing the company and nurturing the company culture you're pursuing.

Recognition should be immediate, frequent and public. For example, when one of our youngest managers at MAACO took ownership of managing requests for proposals, he ended up saving other franchisees thousands of dollars in equipment and signage costs. I immediately made it a point to recognize him publicly at all of our meetings. While this recognition wasn't costly or extravagant, it was heartfelt, and it reinforced vital company values and rewarded his decision-making and hard work for all team members to see.

Even when not recognizing a particular employee or action, an effective leader should provide constant and consistent feedback for their team as a whole. This not only stimulates two-way communication and relationship building, but it also ensures transparency and knowledge, which, as already discussed, creates empowered and productive employees.

Overall, effective leadership style is a choice you make everyday. And, while it may begin with personal improvement via the implementation of these or other actions, it should ultimately improve your organization as a whole.

Effective leadership is geared toward bringing out the best in a leader in order to bring out the best in the team. It promotes the full potential of all team members, and it enables culture, talent and positive results. It enables overall success.