Let’s be honest with each other – being a great leader isn’t easy. Sure, we all have those great role models in our lives who seem to handle any situation gracefully, who can dissolve conflicts amongst employees with a single word, or who can appease even the most difficult of client’s concerns. But trust me when I say that most of these skills did not come naturally, or without failure.
Chances are, that person worked hard to become the seemingly effortless leader that they are today – which means that, with time and effort, you can become an equally effective and successful leader.
So, do you have the courage and desire to step up and lead? In my opinion, here’s what it takes to be a leader of leaders on accounts and across departments:
1) Service Mentality (Act To Serve Your Team)
As an Account Manager, a valued form of leadership is being able to recognize what is holding team members back and finding a solution to fix it. While it is always important to take care of your clients’ needs and ensure that you are helping them be as successful as possible, it is equally important to recognize and acknowledge your team’s needs. After all, they will be the people contributing to your clients’ success.
If someone on your team hit a roadblock or is struggling with something, it is your duty as an Account Manager and leader to be at their service (even if it’s with something outside your area of expertise). Ideally, this would be focused on your team’s highest priority needs being served first.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you would execute on other’s responsibilities, but be at their service to assist and direct things in the best way you can. For example, if your SEO team needs access to your client’s analytics or website, make sure that you over-communicate with both parties to ensure what needs to get done is getting done. Keep in mind, if you can do it yourself, just do it! (Thanks Nike…)
Leaders with a service-first mentality are comfortable with sharing power, helping others perform as highly as possible, and putting the needs of teammates first!
2) Grit (Being Able To Smile In Difficult Situations)
Unlike many other leadership skills, grit cannot be taught easily. In most cases, grit is something that you are born with or learn through handling difficult situations at an early age. Grit is the ability to understand situations and have the emotional intelligence not to break down when things are rough. In other words, grit is getting knocked down six times and standing up seven times.
As I mentioned, grit is a terribly difficult quality to be taught and a quality that I personally look for when making hiring considerations. However, by keeping a positive attitude and being able to smile in difficult situations, you are setting a great example for your team of how leaders should conduct themselves during stressful events. Instead of getting discouraged when things go wrong, spend some time finding solutions to the problem.
Through self-realization, you’ll begin to understand how much of an impact your presence can have on others. Over time, you will form proper habits,it will be second-nature to smile in the face of adversity, and others will growl from your ability to do so!
3) Guts (Courageous Leadership)
Being in the service industry, it’s natural to take feedback from clients and simply say “yes” (after all, the client is always right), but saying “no” when it makes sense and standing up for your team takes guts. And, in such a competitive, fast-paced environment, having the guts to say “no” is essential for success. You are the expert in this area after all.
However, the client isn’t the only person you have to muster up the courage to say “no” too. Sometimes, you have to say “no” to or disagree with a fellow teammate, which can oftentimes be even more challenging than saying “no” to a client. As an Account Manager and liaison between the client and agency, you have to stand up for both sides. This is advice that can be taken to heart by leaders in in a service industry role, regardless of your title.
In a nutshell, courageous leadership involves standing up for what is best for the account, the client, the internal team members, or the company when you are presented with difficult decisions. It involves being decisive and quick with small decisions and direct and transparent with larger decisions. The overarching theme here is doing things honorably, and doing them well.
4) Personal Attention (Put In The Time To Care)
This one is pretty straightforward – who doesn’t like getting attention?! However, in order to be effective, you have to make sure each team member receives the right amount of support and attention. There’s a palpable difference in value between discussing teammate’s issues in passing and actually blocking time out of your day to put a meeting on the calendar to take things more seriously.
This may not always be possible as some issues are more time-sensitive than others, but with the more complicated and delicate issues, placing a stronger emphasis on committing time to solving the problem will go a long way with instilling confidence in team members. As you may have guessed, the latter approach shows more personal investment in that individual than the former.
And believe it or not, personal attention goes both ways – from Account Managers scheduling time with Project Managers… to Project Managers pulling the Account Managers aside and asking them to work on something together. Many Project Managers may seem hesitant to do this with the Account Manager or Account Lead.
Realize that, in the end, it will help move towards better results, help get the A.M. more invested, and will provide the P.M. with the direct training and feedback that junior team members thrive off of. Additionally, this two-way accountability breeds a stronger team-mentality and will give more autonomy to junior team members.
5) Trust (Give Ownership & Autonomy)
As leaders, we have to trust our team members to execute! Companies spend a lot of time and energy vetting new potential team members. Therefore, you can rest assured that management is dedicated to bringing on the best of the best. Being a talented individual yourself, you fully understand that micromanagement is not a welcomed management style. Afterall, if they see such greatness in themselves, as they should, why can’t you see and trust that same greatness?
When working with smart and talented individuals, the more space and autonomy provided, the happier and more productive they will likely be! Not only will this help your teammates grow and help build their trust in you, but it will also free up time from a management perspective (and what we would all do for more hours in a day)!
6) Excellence (Be Excellent Yourself)
It is not enough to expect excellence and it’s not enough to simply say, “I expect excellence out of you.” The best way to foster excellence in your team is by being excellent yourself! If your team sees you going above and beyond on external or internal projects, it sets the bar higher for all parties involved. It doesn’t stop there! The expectation of excellence has it’s place all across communication, analysis, punctuality, attitude, and more!
Conversely, if you see someone on your team constantly exemplifying the qualities of excellence in your field, it will quickly become a strong motivator to produce better work and exceed expectations. Naturally, as a leader, we want to compete at the highest level. The commitment to excellence from cohorts within the organization will foster a culture of excellence and set a precedent of friendly competition. It all really boils down to our basic instincts – monkey see, monkey do!
7) Passion (Contagious Enthusiasm)
As a leader, your job is to be the person who reminds everyone why their work is still relevant, who their efforts impact, and what they (and the clients) will gain from their continued hustle. Are we working diligently on a task simply because we want to check it off our to-do list or because we want to look back on the results and see something we’re proud of?
This entails more than coming to the table with a few carefully-calibrated phrases. As a organization leader, it means reinforcing your take-home-message with every interaction you are presented with. By walking the walk and talking the talk, you are showing commitment, passion, and above all, leadership. When you show you are passionate about something, that passion rubs off on other people, especially those that look up to you.
So, if I had one piece of advice about passion, it would be to be emotional! Get mad when performance doesn’t go your way and channel that emotion into change. Get excited when results exceed your expectations and communicate that excitement to fellow team members. Don’t be afraid to show that passion for what you do because, whether you may realize it in the moment, there are other extremely driven individuals who are looking to you for daily motivation and direction.
8) Open Mind (A.B.L)
…aka “always be learning.” Regardless of what you may think, we can all continue to learn! I don’t care how long you’ve been alive, how long you’ve worked in marketing, or how much training and education you’ve had, you still don’t know everything!
After more than 30 years on this planet, I’ve realized one thing, that I’m always right. This is because, even when I miss the mark, I can admit when I’m wrong! Being able to humble yourself and understand that there is a limitless amount of information to learn from other people is a key quality of leaders that others want to follow. Approach interactions and new opportunities (with both clients and employees) with an open mind.
Once you’ve made peace with the fact that there is an unquantifiable amount of knowledge left for you to still learn, you open the door for a plethora of new opportunities. Whether that be in regards to your personal life, career, understanding of strategy in your field, or making personnel additions to your team. By striving to surround yourself with people that are more knowledgeable than yourself in one area or another, you are bound to achieve great success and work towards a much better place than you were in years past.
9) Consistency (Be Reliable & Responsive)
Knowing what to expect from team leaders goes a very long way when trying to instill confidence and gaining trust from a team. Whether that be showing up for meetings on time, executing on what you’ve promised, or remaining composed under pressure, consistency is a very powerful form of leadership. Consistency is also a quality that can be found or replicated in a handful of the mantras that I’ve listed above. Being consistent also plays a big role in your perception from peers of being approachable and available.
Additionally, it is imperative to realize that, of these above learned-qualities, none of them are learned and perfected over night. Holding yourself and team members consistently accountable, and expecting the same reciprocation from your team’s leaders, will truly create a culture that is to be rivaled!
Understand that, as a leader, others take cues from you and will act in the way that you present yourself in situations (another case of monkey see, monkey do). By being reliable, responsive, and consistent, you put yourself in a position to regarded as a leader no matter what title or role you hold within an organization. Leadership is generally perceived as a top-down quality but, as we’ve discussed, is truly a mindset and can be instilled regardless of where you are in your career!
Overall, what it takes to be an effective leader can be boiled down to a few personal mantras that every leader should be able to keep top-of-mind:
- GAS (Give a Sh*t) Factor: Do you give a sh*t? If you do, it should show in many ways. Whether it be doing what it takes to ensure a task gets done, even if it’s out of your realm of responsibilities or standing up for others in difficult situations, leadership is about caring. Sometimes performance isn’t necessarily about the individual/team, but more about the desire to achieve success on a particular project.
- Be Human: In general, a lot of the aspects that make up a great leader tie into being a decent person. Helping others when they need help, connecting with others through personal attention, and having an open mind about new people or situations doesn’t just apply to leaders – it applies to everyone!
- Say What You Mean & Mean What You Say: This one is self explanatory. Be transparent with your team and the client. Meet deadlines. Show up to meetings on time. And show off your excellence in everything that you say and do.
- Be Self-Critical and Self-Aware: This is the hardest one. While most people have to be conscious of the first three, this is really the only mantra that we have to actively work on because, as humans, we’re not mentally designed to overcome self-critical hurdles! We’re not built to bash ourselves and tear apart the essence of who we are, but this is why it’s important to be realistic with ourselves as we grow. As a leader, you can’t look at the world through rose-colored glasses. You need to be realistic with yourself and your team, temper expectations with your team and clients, and be transparent about failure or poor performance. In the end, there will be a natural progression to instilling the pillars of leadership not only in yourself, but in those around you!
Being a leader is not easy, as it takes courage to step up in order to be the leader that others want to follow and to be the leader that other leaders want to be! After reading through these mantras, what do you think? Do you have what it takes to be a leader of leaders?