The Do’s and Don’ts of Being an Effective Leader.
When running a business as solopreneur, everything is on your time and on your dime. You are your own leader.
Waiting until the last minute just means you work a little later that night. Have a bright idea? Everything stops so that can become the priority. You make all the calls, you can pivot on a moments notice, you are unstoppable.
So what happens when you bring others into the mix?
Can the environment function in the same way? Can you simply throw last minute ideas at your team and expect them to be done? Should they be expected to drop everything for you when you need them most?
No. Hard no.
Once you become a leader of others, you must realize this isn’t your show anymore. You are now incorporating others into your song and dance. Especially in the world of freelancer/independent contractors – now you are working with people who are running their own business, have other clients, and a life of their own.
So now what?
Do you just sit on the backburner and they get to you when they get to you?
This is where becoming a good leader is essential.
The make or break of any great leader is the ability to communicate and to communicate effectively. There is a difference. Second to that is understanding (and I mean TRULY understanding) this mantra:
Harsh reality but true. Along with effective communication, you must be able to respect your contractors time and boundaries. If they say they will get something to you within a certain time frame – don’t brush off that communication and email them relentless as if you are an exception to that rule. It is disruptive and time consuming for them and the fast track to being fired as a client (yes – a contractor can fire you!)
Additionally, these leaders have mastered the six basic functions of management: leading, planning, organizing, staffing, controlling and communicating. But what’s the one golden thread tying all those functions together — and the most important key to great leadership? Clear communication.
– Lee Froschheiser – Reliable Plant
A great leader understands how important communication is with their team, especially in a virtual environment. The first step is determining the best means of communication for your contractors (some may prefer emails, others find meetings more effective).
Next is to ensure all communication is clear, received, understood, and repeated. Never assume the input and output are completely in sync. How you say something may not be how it is received so have a conversation for clarity.
Most of all, remain objective! Yes, it is your business but putting emotion behind your communications can escalate a situation or intimidate a contractor – always provide a safe space for feedback and an open dialogue.
Great Communication: A productive meeting where expectations are clearly outlined, deadlines are shared, there is back and forth between you and your contractors to ensure you are on the same page, and there is a protocol for follow-up or changes, if any are necessary.
Poor Communication: Leaves out details/only sharing partial thoughts with an expectation that your contractors will fill in the blanks (or become mind readers). Having a “just get it done” attitude without outlining the scope of the project and milestones, dropping unrealistic expectations during the meeting and not allow feedback or providing negative feedback because you don’t like what you are hearing.
An effective leader understands that they hired their contractors because these people know more in their fields. They are specialist in what they do. They understand potential issues, genuine concerns, timelines, know what questions to ask, when to push back, and how things should be done to get the most out of it.
If you know more than them, why did you hire them? You would have been better off hiring someone for less and just training them to do it your way.
Which brings me to my next point. Micro-managing.
A great leader doesn’t need to helicopter their contractors. They understand the phrase: You can ask (and trust) someone to do something or you can tell them exactly how to do it, but it can’t be both. They know they hired these individuals so they can focus their attention on what they need to do, not what their staff is doing 24-7.
Effective Leader: Delegates and walks away. By effectively communicating, the leader and contractor are on the same page. The project is understood, the milestones are in place, the scope it set, and until a deadline is missed, that is the end of it. Remember, a milestone can be an update on the project status so again – a good leader doesn’t need to hover to see what’s wrong. They also understand that constant micromanaging can subdue creativeness and sabotage efficiency. It is understood that, just like a snowflake, no two contractors are the same and each will thrive in their own way.
Ineffective Leader: Constantly emailing/calling/texting to see what’s happening. Giving unwanted/unnecessary input which shifts the project or skews timelines. Redirecting/redelegating work because they “aren’t working fast enough” despite the deadlines already in place. Asking the same questions over and over again regardless of the information being formally shared – causing the contractor to have to continue going back and forth with responses versus moving forward with the project, creating unnecessary frustration and loss of focus.
Acknowledgement and Appreciation
The last point I will make is how a good leader treats their contractors. If a good leader decides to do something kind for their staff members – it needs to be a “no-strings attached” thank you for their efforts.
Positive Reinforcement: Recognizes the hard work of their contractors. They show appreciation by either recognizing their efforts in a staff meeting, send a private email of appreciate to the contractor, or send tokens of appreciation. There isn’t a quid pro quo. It is a genuine “thank you” with the understanding the some (not all) contractors are invigorated when what they do is noticed.
Negative Reinforcement: Provides tokens of appreciate with the intent of building up favors. The contractor is rewarded for their hard work and diligence; however, when the next project comes around and the contractor is not able (or available) to burn both ends of the candlestick again (or when the leader may need something done that is outside of the contractors normal scope of work), the leader throws the gifts back in their face, makes them feel ungrateful, plays the victim role, or gaslights the contractor until the leader is able to get their way.
Leadership Roles Aren’t for Everyone
Not everyone is a natural born leader. This is why countless books, classes, and trainings exist. Sure, you can wing it but you will lose plenty of good contractors with that method as those who know their worth will not tolerate it. Take the time to read a book about effective leadership. Learn how to listen to your team. Understand that while it is your business, it isn’t all about you.
You will be amazed that if you take care of your team AND treat them right, they will take care of you.
Few suggestions for books to consider:
If you have any others, feel free add them below in the comments (or email us to add them!)