The 3 best (and worst) ways to stand out as a leader

A Cal Fire firefighter leads a group of firefighters during a burn operation.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
A Cal Fire firefighter leads a group of firefighters during a burn operation.

If you manage people in your professional life, you shoulder a heavy load.

While it has certainly been one of the most fulfilling aspects of my career to date, it's also physically, mentally and emotionally taxing in many ways.

Whether it's just a few or a whole boardroom full of people, ensuring your team are performing up to expectations (or above!) with smiles on their faces is no easy feat … and that's putting it mildly!

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In a world where research done by Gallup states that a mind-boggling 70% of an employee's motivation is influenced by his or her Manager, there are some things you just can't afford to do. But in the same breath, there are behaviors you can model and strategies you can use to ensure that you're standing out in a positive way.

Sure, everybody's raving about you and your management style… but is it for the right or wrong reasons?

Here are the 3 best and worst ways to stand out as a leader:


Spend time in the trenches

The importance of this no-brainer is surprisingly lost on far too many people in positions of power.

How can you possibly pretend to understand what your team needs from you if you don't spend any time with them?

The benefits gained from investing time alongside your employees are countless: camaraderie, respect, insights into areas of strength and improvement, experience, improved problem-solving, higher collaboration… shall I continue?

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And trust me – the difference is palpable and a shift in morale can occur immediately. Who doesn't want to feel like their boss is approachable, relatable and understanding? One of the best ways to demonstrate that is by getting your hands dirty.

By showing your team that you're interested in experiencing what they go through (i.e. maybe it's taking calls from customers), you humanize yourself and remove the hierarchical gap between you and your employees.

I'm not suggesting you have to remain connected at the hip at all times, because nobody likes to feel micro-managed … but you should at the very least be familiar with your team's routines.

Be accountable always

And always means always.

No passing the buck, no excuses… you are in control of your own choices as a leader, so act like it! Take responsibility. Volunteer to put out the fires, even if you didn't start them (but especially if you've started them).

This also includes having your team's back, especially when they have dropped the ball or are taking heat for something they've done; get in front of it and show them that you support them regardless of the circumstances.

Over time, your employees will realize that you are somebody that they can count on, even while they face the most difficult circumstances.

Push yourself to get better

It's natural for people to want to follow somebody that inspires them, somebody that pushes them.

This is why perpetual learning and development is so eye-catching and critical for successful leaders today.

Demonstrating a commitment to your own growth as a professional or person will trigger something in your employees. It might compel others to follow the same steps or path to improve themselves, and in the process, unlock some different talents or passions that might become valuable to your team as a whole.

When was the last time you actively strived to enhance your abilities as a leader? Have you invested time in yourself to become more capable in your role? If the answer to these questions isn't a definitive "yes," this has to be an area you need to add to your "To Do" list.


Failure to walk the talk

This goes without saying, but it doesn't take long for people to see through somebody who says all of the right things but doesn't do or follow through with any of them.

No matter how quick the reward or boost in positivity may be, saying something that you yourself can't deliver on or model is never worth the long-term damage to your reputation.

You can't set expectations for your people that you aren't ready to follow or commit to… that's an engagement killer and will lower morale in a heartbeat if that's the way you run your shop.

Make it a point to choose your words carefully when you're trying to instill a behavior in your team – if they clash with the actions you demonstrate, it's likely going to cause some damage to your personal leadership brand.

Rely on authority to get things done

The old adage rings true – "a boss says 'go!' but a leader says, 'let's go."

If you dine out on the fact that you're the boss so what you say goes, or the fact that you've been there longer so you know best… chances are your employees don't have nice things to say about you around the water cooler.

In today's workplace, solely relying on organizational hierarchy to get things done is about as bull in a china shop as it gets.

Season 1 of 'The Office.'
NBC | Getty Images
Season 1 of 'The Office.'

Flaunting your authority results in low morale and in all likelihood, lower productivity. It's the difference between creating an environment where your people want to do a good job for you, instead of feeling like they have to, for fear of the consequences.

Ask yourself: does your team go above and beyond for you regularly? If the answer is no, or sometimes, it's probably because they fear you and don't want to mess things up… this is likely a result of your leadership style.

Creating an atmosphere of fear will not lead to goodwill with your team, which means they aren't going to get the job done properly.

Knowing but never showing

If your employees aren't learning anything from you, chances are they are more likely to feel stagnant and disengaged with their work.

Think about it: how boring is it for your team if every time they need your help or guidance, you just take over and shove them to the side (figuratively, of course, not literally)?

True leadership is all about uncovering ways to guide your employees towards the light but letting them find it for themselves.

If you often find yourself saying "don't worry, I'll handle it" to your team, chances are you're depriving somebody an opportunity to learn something new. And to tell you something you already know, top performers and high-end employees don't stick around if they aren't benefiting and growing.

This article originally appeared on mattblackink.com

Matt Black is a freelance copywriter who helps entrepreneurs and SMBs create content that shapes brands and inspires customer action. He has a proven track record in professional sports, telecommunications and a variety of other industries. For more insights, please visit Matt Black Ink.