How to Be a More Effective Leader
Author: Kristina Proffitt
5th September 2017
A good leader is critical to the success of departments and companies.
For a startup it can be the difference between success and failure.
But what makes a great leader? What traits do the most successful and revered ones have in common?
I spoke to Cronofy’s CEO and co-founder, Adam Bird; CTO and co-founder, Garry Shutler, and marketing manager Jérémy Bourhis to find out.
They each gave their answers separately so had no idea what the other responses were.
What do you feel is the most important quality for an effective leader?
Adam Bird: Probably listening. Part of being a leader is assimilating inputs from all sorts of sources and distilling the patterns and insight from it. Your team are inevitably closer to customers, delivery, billing, in fact pretty much any aspect of the business. Unless you’re properly open to listening to what they are reporting to you, both directly and indirectly, you will struggle to help them effectively navigate the challenges ahead.
Jérémy Bourhis: There are a lot of qualities that are important when you want to lead. And there are many different types of leaders. Some lead by example, others excel at delegating and using the strength of their team. As a leader you want to be honest, approachable and inspire your team. But I believe that it all start with being a good communicator. In a professional environment you meet and work with people from varied backgrounds who have different motivations and skills. As a leader of people it’s a critical part of your role to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals who work with you in order for them to achieve their full potential. It is also your job to motivate your team by understanding what matters to each of your subordinates. I have found that being able to explain how specific projects fit into the company’s wider strategy isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. I don’t think there is such thing as too much communication but never forget to listen more than you talk and ask your employees for their opinion!
Garry Shutler: Humility. You need to defer to your team as much as possible whilst providing a strong vision for them to get behind.
You can’t, and shouldn’t, know every little detail of everything but you need to know enough to create a cohesive team. You have to realize that you are as dependent on your team as they are on you, if not more so.
What trait do you feel is the most detrimental to leadership?
Adam Bird: Dogmatic self-belief. Part of being an entrepreneur is harnessing your ability to see the world differently and navigate a contrarian approach to success. Being repeatedly told you’re wrong by customers, investors, journalists can make you put up barriers. It’s crucial these barriers are down when leading your team. You have to be able to listen and be humble to properly guide them.
Jérémy Bourhis: People managers need to understand that they have hired employees for their expertize in a specific area. I think some managers feel like they can only lead successfully if they are involved with every project or task that their team works on. In my experience this is a recipe for disaster. You want your team members to feel empowered and show that you trust them by giving them responsibilities. Micro-management doesn’t help subordinates feel like they are being valued. It can also lead to burnout as there are not enough hours in the day for one person to do the job of three or four.
Garry Shutler: Suspicion. When things go pear-shaped, it’s usually down to a lack of trust within the team. Being suspicious that you’re not getting the whole picture leads down the path towards micro-management and then you stop seeing the wood for the trees.
What’s the best piece of leadership advice you’ve ever been given?
Adam Bird: Everyone is making it up. The only way to train for leadership is to attempt leadership. No matter how confident and adept other people appear, they’re all just making it up as they go along. Each challenge is different. Only by jumping in feet first will you start to acquire the necessary skills and become more able to cope with the challenges of leadership.
No matter how confident and adept other people appear, they’re all just making up as they go along. – Adam Bird, Cronofy CEO and co-founder
Jérémy Bourhis: When I was promoted as a people manager I was told that I had to understand that leading people is really a full-time job, not an add-on to my existing one. This is especially true if you have been promoted from another position within the company. There can be a temptation to continue doing what you are comfortable with and just add the people management part on top of it. That simply doesn’t work. You are no longer a Digital Marketing Executive, you are the manager of a marketing team. Let go of some of the day-to-day tasks and delegate these to your team. Your team will rely on you for advice and guidance and you need to be there to help them make decisions that will help the business achieve its objectives. Leaders can’t lose sight of what really matters – the people they work with.
Leaders can’t lose sight of what really matters – the people they work with. – Jérémy Bourhis, Cronofy marketing manager
Garry Shutler: Consensus is preferable but not required. I try to encourage the principle of “disagree and commit”.
A level of conflict is healthy, it means you’ve avoided complete groupthink which helps generate more diverse ideas. However, once a decision is made, everyone should commit to it regardless of which side of the fence they were on. And no “I told you so”s allowed down the line – they aren’t helpful and are generally negativity bias in action.
What alternative(s) would you suggest to someone who wants to progress in their career without becoming a traditional people manager?
Adam Bird: Project leadership is where I’ve seen many people flourish. Especially those that have come through a more technical career path. There are many moving parts to projects and leading a team to a clearly measurable deliverable is a different set of skills to that required to take people on a longer journey.
Jérémy Bourhis: A leader doesn’t have to be managing people to be recognized as such. And there is no shame in not wanting to manage people. That’s not something that everyone wants to do but I believe that businesses need to be better at providing alternative career paths so employees can continue to progress in the organization. You can hold a leadership position in a company through your expertize in specific areas that are critical to the business’ mission and be someone the rest of your team or the business as a whole looks up to and listens to.
Garry Shutler: Leadership can be found having a deep level of knowledge in an area. In the world of IT that can be being an expert in a tool, service, or framework; within a company that might mean being the owner of an operational part of the system or business.
What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a leadership role?
Adam Bird: Find a coach. Someone who you respect as a leader. It can be a very lonely position and being able to discuss and share, in confidence, the inevitable challenges will give you important support.
Jérémy Bourhis: I am a fan of lists so I’d recommend making one! List your perceived strengths and weaknesses (don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues for feedback) and what parts of your job you enjoy most and the ones you enjoy the least. This will help you get a clearer idea of what type of leadership role you want to pursue. If you want to manage a team I’d recommend talking to your manager to start planning how you can reach that goal. Some companies will suggest you take a management course. If that’s not the case I’d recommend reading and talking to managers around you in order to get firsthand accounts of what it really means to manage people. Start preparing now – it will be too late once you are promoted.
Leadership is an entirely new skillset. – Garry Shutler, Cronofy CTO and co-founder
Garry Shutler: Realize that it is an entirely new skillset and so you need to treat it as such.
Here’s a few books I’d recommend on the subject: “Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams” by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister, “The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, “and Driving Technical Change: Why People on Your Team Don’t Act on Good Ideas, and How to Convince Them They Should” by Terrence Ryan.
What do you think?
Let us know what you think makes an effective leader over on Twitter.