What Makes a Great Leader: An Employee’s Perspective

two businesswomen talking over coffee

I’ve been around the block a few times. The employment block that is. I’ve worked for small companies, large corporations, and mom-and-pop businesses. It doesn’t matter what size or type of business it is, bad leaders and good leaders exist everywhere.

I’ve had the good fortune to work for bosses who were positive and inspiring and I learned from them what it takes to be a great leader. I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of great leadership skills and I’ve seen firsthand how poor leadership leads to dysfunctional teams and toxic work environments.

Here are my suggestions for management and team leaders of what you should do so your employees will look up to you and be inspired by you.

1. Give Us Something to Believe In

It’s going to be pretty difficult to get us to do what you want if the vision or goal is unclear and undefined. There can be no employee buy-in to what needs to be done if you, as the leader, are inarticulate and unable to express the importance of the situation or project. Even if the project is mundane, if you can create a sense of importance, ownership and good will, then we’ll be more enthusiastic about completing it.

2. Get Your Hands Dirty

It’s not enough to tell us to do something and then walk away. We’ll wonder why you aren’t involved too if what we’re doing is really important. Show us with your actions that what we’re doing is important because you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty with us. Great leaders fight in the trenches with their team; they don’t lead from a distance.

3. Listen and Learn

Look, I realize you’re the boss and you probably have more experience than I do. However, my opinions and observations are important and valid so please treat them as such. Besides, I’m more likely to see up close what’s going wrong and hear the complaints from other employees. So if I come to you with some suggestions of what needs to change, it would be in everybody’s best interest to listen completely before automatically dismissing what I have to say.

4. Admit When You’re Wrong or Don’t Know the Answer

We’re all human and we all make mistakes. You may think that we won’t trust you if you admit you’re wrong or don’t know the answer, but the opposite is true. You build trust among your team when you admit your mistakes. Tell us what happened and what you learned from it. It serves as a great learning opportunity for us, too. And when you don’t have the answer, admit it and tell us what you’re doing to learn the answer. It will serve as an example for all of us to follow when we are in a similar situation. It’s better to face our problems and learn from them instead of hiding from them.

Great leaders don’t just happen, they learn and grow. Bad leaders refuse to admit they have anything to learn or do anything wrong. I would much rather work for someone who is open to new ideas and new possibilities because I will continue to grow and learn as well. Wouldn’t you like to work for someone who inspires you to be better?

This blog originally authored by Kristin Dressel.

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