In life you can choose between two pains:
- the pain of discipline,
- or the pain of regret.
Leaders are regular people who learn to live with the pain of discipline so well that they help others live their life without any regrets. Great leaders inspire people to be the best they can be, and that’s not just some corny slogan. It’s the difference between living an inspired, fulfilling, meaningful life and living a live of quiet desperation and hopelessness.
If you want to become a better leader, you need to create processes and systems for your team to follow so they have the tools and guidance they need to master discipline and become successful.
Here’s a simple 10-step process anyone can use to become a better leader starting right now.
1) Set a Goal
What’s your goal? What needs to happen for you and your team to achieve success?
Leaders pick a clear goal or objective and communicate it to their team. Sometimes the leader should unanimously select the goal, while other times it’s best to debate the major issues and pick a clear direction with your leadership team or other members of the team. Generally speaking, the more complex the objective, the more benefit you’ll gain from debating it and working toward a clear goal as a team.
Leaders commit to achieving their objective and make sure everyone on the team understands it clearly. You can’t hit a target you can’t see.
2) Create a Plan
Leaders create a plan or strategy to achieve their goals.
Plans can range from extremely complicated to barebones depending on the size and scope of the goal.
For goals that can be completed in a week, usually the only plan you need is a next step to get you on the right track.
For major goals that may take months or years to accomplish, you’ll often need a more detailed plan, and you’ll likely be adjusting your plan as your team learns new information and makes new discoveries while working toward the goal.
Don’t just tell your team what the goal is without helping them put a plan in place to achieve it. Great leaders help their teams create plans that give everyone on the team clarity on who’s responsible for which parts of the plan, what the course of action should look like, and what to do if things don’t turn out as expected.
3) Identify and Budget Resources
What resources do you have and what resources do you need to implement your plan and achieve your goal?
Great leaders are great at utilizing their resources and finding new resources to achieve their objective.
- What resources do you already have in place to help you achieve your goal?
- What resources could you get access to that would make it much faster and easier to achieve your goal?
- Which resources do we have that are limited, like money and time? What are those limits?
The common resources everyone has to work with are money and time, but there are many other types of resources to work with. Make sure you and your team understand what resources are needed to do the job, and what the limits of your resources are. If you only have a $50,000 marketing budget, your team needs to know that before they start making decisions about how much to invest in a given marketing campaign.
Leaders and entrepreneurs often think that having limited resources is bad, but limited resources can actually help force you and your team to think more creatively and come up with a better solution than you would if you had unlimited money or time.
Limited resources can be an asset as long as you’re not lacking in creativity and willingness to experiment and try new things!
4) Identify Challenges and Obstacles
What challenges or obstacles might come up along the way to achieving your goal?
Inexperienced leaders often overlook challenges and obstacles because they want their team to think it’ll be easy to succeed, but that approach will leave you and your team unprepared to meet the challenges that inevitable come up whenever you try to do something new or achieve an important goal.
There’s nothing worth doing that doesn’t come with challenge and struggle, so you need to prepare your team ahead of time for the upcoming struggle they’ll be facing.
Leaders help their teams identify obstacles and challenges ahead of time, so you can be prepared when the come up and get past them with less wasted time or money. You don’t have to spend all your time worrying about challenges, but you do need to them and take action to get around them.
Here’s a great leadership mantra:
“Over, under, around, or through. Whatever it takes, I’ll do!”
5) Create Systems to Give and Receive Feedback
People learn better and faster when they’re able to freely give and receive feedback. That’s one of the biggest benefits to working with a great team—you get to share feedback with highly intelligent, motivated, and competent people who are all working toward the same goal.
Leaders always create systems to give and receive feedback. Without feedback, you’ll never be able to make the adjustments and changes you need to achieve big goals and objectives. Everyone makes mistakes. Leaders use feedback from mistakes and successes to improve and make adjustments along the way.
Here are some great ways to create systems for giving and receiving feedback:
- Schedule regular meetings and encourage feedback and discussion of major issues
- Ask questions of everyone on the team like, “What’s working well?” and “What’s not working?”
- Encourage your team to give feedback constantly—positive and negative—and to speak freely whenever they have an idea or see a problem
- Encourage your team when they do something well. Let people know when they’ve done something good, and reward them for it, even if the only reward is a few kind words of encouragement—you’ll be surprised how far that can go!
6) Communicate Clearly
One of the biggest stumbling blocks in leadership is miscommunication. It might seem like what you told your team to do was obvious or easy to understand, but that doesn’t mean it was obvious to them!
When there’s an issue with someone on the team not doing what you told them to do or what they’re “supposed” to do, the #1 most likely cause is always the leader’s ineffective communication.
Whenever this happens, as a leader the first thing you must ask yourself is:
- Am I communicating clearly?
- How can I communicate more clearly?
- Do we have a system or process in place to make this as simple and clear as possible?
Miscommunication happens millions of times every single day in businesses all across the US (and the world). If you’ve ever seen glaring issues at a company, the most common cause is poor communication.
Leaders have to communicate:
- Systems and Processes
- How decisions should be made
- How to treat customers
You might have a clear objective and the best plan in the world, but if you can’t communicate it clearly to your team, they won’t be able to help you get there.
Leadership requires great communication, which first of all means to listen to your team, and then to speak clearly and get feedback.
Make sure you get confirmation from everyone on the team that they understand the objective and plan. If you just bark out orders and expect everyone to follow your plan without discussion or feedback, you’re setting your whole team up for failure from the beginning.
7) Identify Next Steps
Leaders take ACTION!
They’re quick to act and execute on their plans, and that means they have to have a constant focus on the next steps.
What’s your next step right now? Go do that.
Then figure out the next step.
Rinse and repeat.
Leaders always focus on the next step. Too many people never go for their goals because they focus on the 1,000 steps it will take instead of just taking the first step. From a scientific psychological perspective (the big five traits), executing plans quickly and consistently requires industriousness (a psychological trait that people who are great at implementing plans have in spades).
Not everyone scores highly on levels of industriousness, so you need to make sure there are people on your team who are good at getting things done. And you must implement processes and systems that make routine tasks so easy to do that anyone can do it reasonably well, even people who have low levels of industriousness.
Yes, you have to have a vision for the future and long-term goals, but those won’t get you anywhere if you don’t execute on the most important steps today, this week, this month, and this year. Thinking big picture won’t get you anywhere if you can’t take care of the issues right in front of you.
Leaders help their team implement by identifying next steps and helping their team focus on next steps. The best way to do this for most tasks is with a project management system like Asana or through clearly defined processes and SOPs (Standardized Operating Procedures).
8) Make Adjustments
Leaders constantly test, tweak, and optimize what they do and how they do what they do so they can improve. You have to constantly change and make adjustments or you’ll fall behind and never catch up.
There’s a saying in the military that a combat plan changes 5 minutes into battle. Plans will change as obstacles, challenges, and circumstances come up—making the right adjustments at the right time is where great leaders excel.
So how do you know when and how to make the right adjustments?
That’s the key: no one does!
In life and in business, you have to make decisions with limited information. If you had to wait until you had perfect information to decide, you’d never be able to decide to do anything at all!
Instead, great leaders make adjustments often. But they don’t change things just for the sake of change—that’ll lead to too much chaos and disorder, and massive amounts of waster effort. What you need to do is figure out which areas are in most need of change.
You and your team can ask these questions to help diagnose problems and areas where change is needed:
- What’s not working?
- Where is progress too slow?
- Where do people feel stuck?
- Where or why are people unhappy, confused, or feeling other negative emotions about the business, product, or process?
Negative emotion is one of the best ways to spot issues. If you or someone on your team is upset, disappointed, or angry about something, there’s a good sign that change needs to happen or communication needs to happen to help that person feel better—and solve the problem in the process.
That said, you can’t just make a change every time someone on the team feels a negative emotion. You need to discern between important issues and personal issues, and you need to know that some people will be unhappy no matter what you do—and those people probably shouldn’t be part of a productive team because they’ll just drag everyone else into the unhappiness zone with them.
9) Celebrate Your Wins
Leaders celebrate success when they achieve their objectives. They give praise and acknowledgment to their team members. No one wants to work for someone who doesn’t appreciate them. As a leader, you must show your appreciation through celebration and acknowledgment.
Remember, leaders praise publicly and criticize privately.
Here are a few ways to celebrate your wins:
- Have everyone on the team share a win for the week during a meeting, or in Slack or a company message board
- Every quarter, review your team’s progress, write down your wins, and make it a point to acknowledge everyone on your team and how they contributed to the team’s success
- Make it a habit to write down and record your team’s wins. As a leader, you’re the #1 person that needs to be reminded about these successes because you’ll end up spending the majority of your time solving problems which can leave you with an unhealthy perspective if you don’t reflect on your wins
10) Raise the Bar
As soon as you accomplish your objective, pick a new objective!
Your team must always have at least one goal to aim for, so as soon as a big goal is accomplished, you MUST create another goal or you’re setting up your whole team for failure and disappointment
When the first astronauts came back from landing on the moon, they experienced depression, anxiety, and hopelessness. And it makes sense if you think about it. I mean, after you travel to the moon, what else can you do that really matters?
They had no new objective so their life became depressing and meaningless. The big high after achieving their goal in space turned into a massive low upon return—until they set a new goal that inspired them again and gave their life new meaning. Now NASA trains all astronauts to create new goals when they get back from space so they can continue to live happy, fulfilling lives even after accomplishing incredible goals.
You need to do the same thing for your team as a leader.
So what’s your next goal?
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.