As the workplace changes, so does the role of a leader.

Today’s leaders can no longer demand the blind obedience that yesterday’s leaders expected, and part of inspiring today’s workers is growing and developing leadership skills that are worth following.

Leadership may be one of the most analyzed topics in the whole lexicon of human relations. A simple Google search for “What is leadership?” nets an impressive 494 million results. Fundamentally, though, leadership is most frequently defined as, “the art of inspiring others to do more than they would otherwise have thought they could do.”

Breaking that definition down: First, it’s clear that leadership is an ability, and second, that it involves human social interaction. But society – and societal relationships – are changing at an accelerating rate. That change is reflected in the vast cultural differences between the three generations that are present in most modern offices: Boomers; GenXer; Millenials. To be effective, leaders must be able to engage all followers, regardless of their distinctive characteristics, and it is for this reason that relating to your followers, and understanding what makes them work, is essential to a prospective leader.

Within modern organizations, the majority of leaders are also followers – if not of a person, then likely of a path or process. Today, blind followership is much less common now than it was before. Most creative and intellectual professionals are now self-aware and empowered enough that they will not follow a vision they do not share, nor will they tolerate working within a construct of values that they do not share. No longer granted the authority of leadership solely because of title, leaders now have to prove they are worth following.

I believe that effective leadership is about having a proper relationship with one’s followers and with oneself.

Have the proper relationship with the team:

  • Be their ally. You are not fighting their battles for them, but you are there to support them when they need it and you always have their back: deflecting attacks and distractions. You don’t tolerate poor treatment of your team, whether it be by clients or by others within the organization.
  • Be concerned about them as people. Know their concerns, issues, skills, capabilities, passions and interests. Evaluate their individual potential, then guide and encourage them each toward that potential.
  • Be a teacher and a mentor. Invest yourself in their growth and development. Make it your goal to know their goals and to understand how they want to grow, both personally and professionally.
  • Give frequent feedback. People need to trust their leaders, and trust requires that they know precisely where they stand with you, and this can only be accomplished by giving frequent, consistent feedback. If something is a surprise to them at review time, it is likely that you missed some opportunities to provide feedback at a time and place that was more in context.
  • Delegate properly. Delegating is an essential skill for a leader, and proper delegation requires an understanding of each of your team members’ strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Delegating a responsibility that your team member cannot handle is a sure recipe for disappointment for both of you.
  • Listen to your team. Reward good ideas and never, ever take credit for their work.
  • Set the right example. Be ethical, fair, transparent – and live a balanced life. Consider the unintended message that you send by working at all hours, calling and emailing late and on days off. Evaluate your priorities and let your team give you the gift of shutting off for a while.

Have the proper relationship with yourself:

  • Keep your ego under control. Resist the urge to brag about accomplishments and to take credit for the team’s successes. The less credit you take, the better.
  • Keep your emotions under control. Remain calm in the face of challenges and project optimism in you and your team’s ability to overcome any adversity.
  • Continuously work to improve your leadership. Read. Study. Attend conferences. Take time out to contemplate improvements on your leadership style and direction.
  • Be deliberate about how you say what you say and consider that you may not be being perceived as you wish to be. Be aware of how you could be coming across and watch for signs that you’re not having the impact you mean to have.
  • Be optimistic. Focus on alternatives rather than obstacles.

Recognizing how your leadership feels to your followers is the essential first step in determining your effectiveness as a leader. To guide yourself in the development of your leadership style, ask yourself what kind of leadership you, yourself, want to have.

Remember Steven Covey’s famous advice, “Begin with the end in mind.” At the end of your career, it is the impact you have had on others – those who you have mentored, encouraged and taught – that will be the measure of your ability and your effectiveness as a leader. Let that end guide your actions today and every day.