How to improve your leadership skills

Employment & Skills | How To

Written by Aron Priest, co-founder of printing company Solopress

What makes a good leader? The ability to inspire, excellent organisation skills and commercial acumen are all crucial. But most important is the capacity to continue listening to and learning from people at all levels in your business – to keep everyone engaged.

As the co-founder of Solopress, this is something I’ve discovered through many years of experience. Overcoming various challenges, dealing with growth, and managing a changing team has taught me a lot about leadership. For me, the main thing that makes a company successful is a passionate team, led by strong management.

Whatever your company sector or size, these are some key leadership lessons I’ve learnt during my 30 years in business.

Evolve your leadership style

Very few people are born leaders – it takes years of practice to develop. Core skills such as communication, motivation and organisation are a good start, but you will need to build on these. As the challenges and opportunities for your business change, your leadership style must evolve and adapt accordingly.

My leadership style has changed over the years as the business and I have grown. In the early days, I was so driven and focused on succeeding that I wasn’t the most tolerant person. However, as time went on, I learned to be more understanding, appreciating the value of loyalty and knowing what encourages staff to work hard for you.

Relinquish responsibility

In the early days, I did it all. I’d take an order on the phone, and oversee the job being processed, finished and delivered. I’d then send the invoice – and even chase the payment if needed. Long term, this is not sustainable. All your time is consumed by the business, leaving you little space to think beyond what needs to be done here and now. Such high level of involvement led to me being extremely tired, and working lengthy hours.

The best leaders know when to take a step back and delegate responsibility to others. Realising when workloads are becoming overbearing, or recognising when someone is better experienced to take on a task, can help you and the business perform better.

Delegate to people you believe can handle the responsibility. Identifying these traits should be an important part of your recruitment.

Trust your team

It can be tempting, for new leaders especially, to take on too much work or micromanage employees at first. This is somewhat understandable, as you want everything to run perfectly when it’s your overall responsibility. Initially, I was guilty of this – doing too much, trying to take on everything myself rather than delegating and leading.

As time went on, I realised I had employed lots of knowledgeable and experienced people, but I wasn’t allowing them to have an input in decisions the business took. I adapted my leadership style to make things more relaxed, giving people the confidence to make suggestions without fear of being rejected.

People have good ideas, and a good leader listens to those thoughts and discusses their pros and cons. Sharing key information with employees is an effective way to build trust and help employees feel valued.

Instil loyalty

You need staff who come to work because they want to rather than because they must. Employees who understand what you’re trying to collectively achieve, who want to contribute to your goals, will be the most loyal.

Different leadership skills can help inspire loyalty. These include using motivational techniques to increase morale, delegating to improve satisfaction, and good organisation to stay on top of problems and find solutions to issues affecting employee performance.

Listen to your business

An old mentor of mine told me something I still believe today – “listen to your business and it will tell you what it needs”. Knowing when and where to identify problems and opportunities in a company often comes from the top.

As well as knowing when to take ownership of tasks, it’s vital to understand the moments to listen to others in the business and assess the best next steps. I’d say this message will be true for nearly all problems a business will face – provided they’re listening closely and are willing to adapt.

Whether you’re just starting out and are looking to develop an effective leadership style, or you’re an established business owner hoping to sharpen your leadership skills, keep these actions in mind.

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