Close your eyes and imagine what a leader looks like. There’s a good chance you envisioned a CEO in the boardroom. A coach rallying their team. Or perhaps a charismatic politician, speaking on the campaign trail. These are all familiar images of what many of us think a ‘leader’ constitutes, but they reflect roles instead of attitudes, and they’re focused on a single person.
If you’re a founder or manager, you may be a great leader, but your impact will multiply exponentially when you inspire others to do the same. As social entrepreneur Abby Falik explains in a previous Fast Company story, leadership is a practice, not a position: “Our culture is hardwired to conflate tiles, money, and power with leadership.” When we untangle that wiring, leading means using your strengths to influence others in positive ways.
Over the past 13 years, I’ve tried to encourage and empower our 150 employees to lead. Sometimes I’ve stumbled, but I’m amazed by what happens when they use their influence to elevate our company. If you’re ready to inspire leadership across your team, here’s how to get started.
Promote a leadership mindset
There’s a familiar archetype that people attach to leaders. They’re extroverted, talkative, and even dominant. As a result, some people might feel like they’re not “built” to lead. In reality, there are many different ways to exert influence. If we recast leadership as an outlook, not a role, we can immediately shift our behavior.
1. Commitment—the determination to lead, perform, and excel.
2. Accountability—taking ownership and responsibility for your role.
3. Performance—doing your best and continuously striving to reach a higher level.
4. Vision—looking beyond your day-to-day tasks to explore what’s next.
Everyone can adopt these principles, whether you’re a new employee or the CEO. Breaking the vague idea of “leadership” into clear actions also makes it feel more achievable.
Strong leaders act like sticky glue—they are the lynchpin of a cohesive, engaged team. According to a 2017 Gallup research, businesses with highly engaged employees have less staff turnover and enjoy higher sales, profits, and customer ratings. But what does “engagement” really mean? After all, we’ve all seen offices full of employees mesmerized by their computer monitors. Is that engagement in action?
“Engaged employees are energized, proud, enthusiastic, and have positive attitudes at work,” writes author, psychologist, and Fast Company contributor Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. “On the flip side, disengaged employees underperform, get bored, and show counterproductive work behaviors, like wasting time online, not showing up, and burning out.”
Engagement is an individual experience, but we can nurture it by ensuring our teams are healthy, challenged, and have real autonomy. We can encourage employees to pursue productive, meaningful lives outside of the office. Continuing education, personalized training, and creative projects can also fan their flames. On the flip side, micromanagement, nagging, and showing a lack of trust will quickly lead people to check out.
Share and repeat the big picture
It’s easy to assume your employees are working with a clear purpose, that they’ve internalized the organizational mission and vision, and their day-to-day activities reflect these goals. Often, that’s not the case. Business today moves fast. You might see the horizon, but your employees are typically solving problems within their specific job roles and day-to-day tasks.
The most effective leaders—in every capacity—consistently reinforce a shared purpose, the deeper reason for your work. At JotForm, we make easy-to-use web forms. But our mission is to help people and organizations be more productive. I’ve learned that we can’t repeat this phrase often enough. And when we do, it empowers everyone to contribute.
Personal authenticity means showing up as yourself. The more your values, beliefs, and personality traits are congruent with your actual behavior, the more others will trust you and bring their authentic selves to work. They’ll feel safe to be the committed, accountable, high-performing, and visionary leaders we all need more of in this world.
When The New York Times asked Susan Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, what she’s learned from her role, “be yourself” was her first lesson in leadership.
“Think about the attributes you have, and use them as an asset to drive your mission,” Desmond-Hellmann said. “And if the company needs something different, you still show up as you and then find somebody who’s better than you at those things to help you.” Now that’s a leadership mindset that everyone can adopt.
Aytekin Tank is the founder of JotForm, a popular online form builder. Established in 2006, JotForm allows customizable data collection for enhanced lead generation, survey distribution, payment collection, and more.