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What Makes a Great Leader?

How does one become a great leader? I remember when I first learned about leadership in the business world. I wasn’t even 21 and managing my first general finance office. (Wow, that seems like many years ago—wait … it was!)

Hoping to increase my skills and move up the ladder as quickly as possible I started to devour biographies—as I have continued to do ever since. What I’ve discovered is there isn’t one style or type of personality that is necessary for being a great leader. I’ll give you an example.

When I was reading the Steve Jobs book, I admired him for his vision—but I certainly wouldn’t want to work for him. I know his intimidating style that I read about wouldn’t have motivated me—regardless of how rich he was. It might have worked for a tech guy, but not me.

Years ago I bought one of Jack Welch’s books. He was known to be a “great leader.” In fact, one of his tape series was titled, Jack Welch, Icon of Leadership. Again, I couldn’t get through it. Obviously, however, people who are much smarter and more successful than me liked his style.

I kept reading and reading to see if there was a certain style or example one could follow to become a great leader. Finally, I found it.

I loved the styles of Norman Vincent Peale, Mike Krzyzewski, Zig Ziglar and Ken Blanchard. I believe in “servant leadership” and inspiring others to follow you versus demanding they follow you. That works best for me.

Look at your company. Do you have a style that allows you to be an inspiring leader?

I discovered that one can’t just take the attitude of “This is how I am and you better learn to handle it.” This will produce a great deal of turnover—especially if your people feel that they aren’t part of a team that you lead and inspire. Everyone deserves the chance to make a difference.

It’s kind of like raising children. I have three kids and have learned that I handle each of them differently. My father-in-law is the master of this. He has five daughters and, somehow, each of them believes they are his favorite. The question for both you and I is, “Do we have the ability to do that with each member of our team?”

As leaders we are put in positions as coaches, parents, disciplinarians, counselors and whatever else it takes to build an effective, productive team. It may mean that we need to “free up people’s futures” to build the right team. That’s OK. It is your business and you have to build the right team that works for you, your fellow employees and your customers. What works for me might not work for you. Your challenge is to find what style makes you a great leader.

If You Need to Fire Someone

At a recent regional meeting I was talking with one of our young franchisees wrestling with the fact that he needed to fire someone. He’s known it for several months and just couldn’t pull the trigger. He was a leader in his church and was battling being a good Christian vs. putting someone on unemployment.

Sound familiar? How many times have you gone through something like this?

Let’s look at some of the facts. If you are reading this you most likely own your own business or someone has put you in a leadership position. In either instance you have an obligation to maximize your resources (including staff) to run a profitable business.

In most instances you are making a personnel change because someone isn’t getting the job done. You first have to look in the mirror and ask yourself if you’ve given this employee the training and tools necessary. If not, you need to change and start doing what you need to do.

If you have provided the training and given them the tools — do what my wife taught me to do. Rather than agonize about making the employee feel bad about losing their job, my wife will instead get mad because the employee put her in a position of needing to fire him or her. She will adopt adopted an attitude of ‘How could you do this to me’?

A struggling employee likely knows it’s not working. You have an obligation to “free up a future” so someone can find something else to do when it is obvious that this employee will not do what is necessary for your company. Often you will find the employee is grateful that you made the decision for them to find a job that is a better fit.

When you cut an underperformer, you have a fertile ground for coaching. You can explain to everyone what is needed to be successful at their jobs. Maybe it is more volume. Perhaps it is taking better care of customers.

Do you know what else happens? Your staff starts to understand that you are in charge and you don’t have a fear of making changes necessary to improve your business.

Finally, recognize that there are great employees out there for you and your business. You might have to look different places than you have before — but setting expectations for your employees and making sure they adhere to those expectations will change the future of your business.