Everyone knows what a boss does. This is the person who hires and fires, oversees day-to-day operations, and gives employees instructions for carrying out their tasks.
While a leader often does occupy this type of management position, not all bosses are leaders. Instead of seeing their role in terms of how much authority they have over other people, true leaders look at how they can inspire employees to do their best work, reach common goals and make the company better overall.
We asked founders and executives what kinds of traits and habits make for an innovative, effective leader. Here are seven important things that the best leaders do every day to get the most out of their teams. [See Related Story: What Kind of Leader Are You? Traits, Skills and Styles]
Turn to others for ideas
As a leader, you may face most of the pressure from customers or upper management to deliver results. But that doesn't mean you're solely responsible for coming up with solutions; in fact, turning to your team for help not only alleviates your own burden, but also empowers your employees to feel like they're making a valuable contribution to the company.
Patrick Stroh, business speaker and author of "Advancing Innovation: Galvanizing, Enabling and Measuring for Innovation Value" (IMA, 2015), advised leaders to create a truly collaborative environment by crowdsourcing ideas, and then helping team members make those ideas a reality.
"Empowering others leads to broader thinking and a more voluminous portfolio of ideas," Stroh told Business News Daily. "Getting more employees, suppliers, customers and other constituents to ideate and execute ideas not only generates more value but [also] leads to greater overall engagement of all parties to achieve your mission."
Dan Peate, founder of insurance and benefits company Hixme, agreed that a culture in which employees are not afraid to share ideas yields the best results.
"Acknowledge all ideas and create a work environment that fosters creativity and acceptance," Peate said. "Work with employees at all levels to create ideas — good and bad — and congratulate them for having the courage to share their ideas. It's important to teach employees not to be offended if their idea gets shot down, because discarded ideas often start the conversation that leads to something great."
One of the biggest issues many ineffective leaders have is how well and how often they communicate with their teams. Breakdowns in communication lead to confusion and conflict, so it's best to err on the side of over-communicating. Shaun Ritchie, CEO and co-founder of EventBoard noted that this is especially important when it comes to sharing the company's strategic vision.
"Putting a stake in the ground and getting [everyone] in the organization to buy in is critical, as is repeating [your mission] often and without reservation," Ritchie said. "This will allow everyone to do his or her part in reaching the 'promised land.'"
Ritchie also said developing a culture of candid communication among all members of the company will help avoid misunderstandings and distrust.
"Creating open and honest feedback into what's working and what's not will help everyone feel like they are part of the conversation," he said. "This builds organizational trust, which is the fundamental basis of all relationships."
The ultimate goal of a leader is to get everyone working together to improve. But you can't improve what you don't measure, Stroh said: Analytics and measurement of progress are a leader's best bet for understanding what needs to be done next.
"Organizations should consider ... their value proposition and how they go to market [with it]," he said. "When you consider your strategy, you then need a bundle of metrics with which to measure the inputs, processes and outputs of your program. Only through measuring your efforts can you establish a baseline and take actions for improvement."
Failure can be a tough pill to swallow, but it can also be an important learning experience to help you make better decisions in the future. Amy Fox, president, CEO and founder of Accelerated Business Results, said the best leaders know to embrace mistakes, rather than lament them.
"Innovative leaders recognize that an organization can stumble into a great idea if they are willing to fully diagnose the issue," Fox said. "Most companies choose to quickly push past client problems or poor deliverables. Make sure to push the pause button. Sometime the smallest changes can produce breakthroughs."
In addition to embodying this attitude toward your own errors, Stroh added that you must make it clear to your team that their mistakes are OK, too.
"Discuss the concept of failure, and explain and extend the offer that individuals have the freedom to fail," Stroh said. "[Otherwise] people will be scared to innovate, out of fear of failure and consequences. The key is to 'fail fast,' learn the lesson quick and not burn large amounts of resources to get the learning. But if you don't address a freedom to fail, it will be a silent killer in people contributing innovation ideas."
Every business will face its share of challenges, and a leader is responsible for guiding the company through those rough spots. Resilience — that is, being strong enough to adapt to and bounce back from setbacks and obstacles — is a hallmark of a great leader, said Tom Villante, co-founder, chairman and CEO of payment processing company YapStone. It's something good leaders work at constantly.
"Focus and resilience go hand in hand," Villante said. "As you must focus on the longer-term strategy and objectives, every leader will certainly run into challenges and obstacles along the way — some that you identified and others that may have blindsided you. An unwavering resilience to lead your team through failure to success is a vital trait of an exceptional leader."
With so many smaller tasks on your plate, it can be easy to get caught up in day-to-day processes and lose sight of what you're ultimately working toward. Villante reminded leaders to keep their eyes on the "big picture" to help them make the more difficult daily decisions that affect longer-term goals.
"Clearly outline the strategic business plan to your team, and then empower them to make the necessary daily decisions to make it happen," Villante said. "By focusing on the big picture, you can establish the benchmarks for your team and also set re-calibration checkpoints throughout the year to measure progress."
Peate noted that all leaders need a sense of healthy, realistic optimism in their approach. The key word here is "realistic"; you have to be honest with yourself about your own ideas, and not be too shortsighted or proud to admit that these ideas may not be the best. Perseverance is necessary to get things done, said Peate, but persevering on the wrong path is the enemy of success.
"You must only settle for great," he said. "Innovative leaders know that it's acceptable to kill their good ideas, because they get in the way of great ideas."