In the best companies, everyone is a leader. Decisions are made by those best suited to make them, everyone feels trusted and respected, and a shared purpose provides unity and motivation.
I’ve been trying to be a better leader my entire career, and I still have much to learn. Nevertheless, some lessons I’ve learned along the way have stood the test of time, and I’d like to share them with you.
Mind your morale
Morale is a currency; spend it wisely.
One of the most important responsibilities of any leader is to manage the morale and energy of the team. If you’re a freelancer, self-awareness is key, because you must manage yourself, and tending to your own morale is critical to your success.
Managing morale doesn’t mean avoiding hard work. In my experience, providing an environment that lets people do their best work is what keeps morale high.
Decide who decides
Clearly defined roles and responsibilities help everyone. A leader’s job is to trust the right people to make the right decisions, and to provide the necessary context to do so.
When someone is a designated decision-maker, they are more likely to listen carefully to other views, because they don’t have to spend energy presenting or defending their own. Others will feel heard, because the decision-maker is actually listening. Everyone wins.
Choose words carefully
Language is important. The words we use shape our perspective and the perspectives of everyone we work with.
Make we a habit. They didn’t make a mistake; we made a mistake. The client doesn’t have a big opportunity; we have a big opportunity.
When you’re certain about something, say so, but also make it clear when you’re not. Expressing uncertainty doesn’t erode trust, but expressing certainty and being wrong does.
Set healthy boundaries
Communication is good, but be deliberate about it. The cost of real-time, always-on communication tools shouldn’t be overlooked, especially when used with clients. When possible, stick to email and scheduled meetings.
Avoid working outside of normal working hours, too. It’s more sustainable, and often more productive, to use a strict work schedule to help you and your team stay focused and driven. Don’t let the possibility of after-hours work excuse lacklustre performance during the day.
Make meetings count
Meetings are often unfairly maligned. It’s true that a poorly-organized meeting can be disruptive and wasteful, but a good meeting can be invaluable.
Every meeting needs a goal. Agendas are good, but goals are better. With a clear goal, it’s easy to intuit when the meeting is the least bit off-track, so you can correct course as you go. It’s also worth making clear if a meeting is meant to be divergent (new ideas welcome) or convergent (time to reach a consensus).
Make a habit of designating someone to take notes, and email the notes to everyone after the meeting. This will help you move more quickly, because no one will be worried about missing something. It also gives you a good excuse to exclude optional attendees; they can just read the notes. Small meetings without bystanders are more efficient.
Create your own rules
Some of the best lessons will come from your own experience.
A rule we adhere to on my team, for example, is to never estimate someone else’s work. This gives each person a sense of responsibility to the schedule and helps prevent unreasonable expectations.
Try to avoid treating any rule as dogma, however. ‘It depends’ is the only rule that is always dependable, so be willing to make an exception for a really good reason.
Leadership is a skill that requires study and practice, just like any other, and learning from one another is a great way to continue to improve. As peers, we share common threads, so the lessons we learn do as well.
I’m convinced that the most meaningful work is teamwork. Let’s learn together and work together to deliver on the web’s promise. Leaders wanted.
The original version of this article was commissioned for New Adventures magazine, January 2019.