Think about all the jobs you’ve ever applied for. How many of those job descriptions listed leadership as a desired skill? Probably most, if not all of them. Leadership skills are highly coveted in the business world and a great leader is priceless in the eyes of any business. A 2015 study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 80% of employers look for leadership skills on resumes. It’s clearly an important skill, companies put a lot of money into management and leadership training. Despite how important it seems to be, there’s not a concrete definition as to what leadership is or what characteristics make a good leader.

There are some general characteristics that come to mind when most people think of good leadership. Traits like honesty, courage, intelligence and responsibility, are usually desirable in a leader. There are other important leadership qualities, like the ability to collaborate, be forward thinking and delegate tasks to your team. Leaders also have to be multifaceted and know when certain situations require a change in leadership styles. Adaptability and flexibility are also  essential leadership characteristics. Some common mistakes leaders make include being inaccessible or hard to find, micromanaging and ignoring individual successes.

There are also specific leadership styles that are best to use for certain teams or circumstances. For example, laissez-faire leadership is a hands-off approach. There is no direct supervision or regular feedback from the leader. This approach is best used when employees are highly experienced and trained. This leadership style seriously hinders employees who have less experience or need more guidance. In contrast, autocratic leadership styles enable management to make decisions without input from their team. Managers impose their decisions on employee but they are not questioned or challenged. This style benefits inexperienced employees who require close supervision. However, this style does not benefits employees who thrive in creative, collaborative environments.

Participative leadership is also called democratic leadership. Leaders value the input of team members but the final decision is theirs. This style usually boosts employee morale because they get to offer their opinion in the decision making process. This style is also useful when a company needs to make changes because employees play a role in the process. Employees feel more included and important with this style. Transactional leadership works like a rewards system. Managers will assign tasks to their team members and then individuals will be given a positive or negative reinforcement based on their performance. Team members and leaders will set goals together and team members will agree to follow the leader’s instructions on how to accomplish the goals. Leaders can review results and correct employees when they fail to meet goals. Transformational leadership relies of high levels of communication from management. High visibility and meaningful communication is used to motivate employees and enhance productivity. This style of leadership requires high levels of involvement. Leaders should focus on the big picture and delegate smaller tasks to their team to ensure goals are accomplished.

Creative is unique because we do awards as well as branded promotional merchandise. So, we have two different teams made up of people with different skills. It’s our leaders’ responsibility to help our teams stay updated and informed on current or upcoming projects. One way we do this is by having a meeting every Friday morning. We take a few minutes to sit down together and discuss any issues we’re having, introduce new hires and talk about where we’re at on various projects. It gives our awards team and our branded promo team an opportunity to sit down face-to-face and talk, which isn’t something that can happen every day. Our marketing team also has weekly check-ins with our leaders to stay up to date on the latest news and developments.

We asked a couple of our leaders about their personal take on leadership. Peter Horton, our General Manager for the Awards Division, discussed his take on adaptability in leadership. “The ability to adapt to quickly changing circumstances is essential for good leadership.  A key component is a near-constant willingness to question everything, current procedures, processes, methods and techniques, with an aim for progressive improvement.” He also offered some insight as to how he keeps his team energized and moving forward, “. . .we do our best to try to remove ego from these discussions. We actively encourage this open and progressive method of systemic evaluation for everyone on the team.” This can be pretty difficult at times because people have to hear things they don’t want to hear, but Peter works through that, “. . .encouraging an attitude of embracing change is helpful. We try to make it part of our culture.”

We also talked to our CEO, Steve McBee, about conflict resolution and encouraging creative thinking within the team. , “ Listen, listen and listen some more before resolution! Know the difference between right and wrong, and always do the right thing.” We put a lot of emphasis on thinking creatively in our business, whether that means coming up with a creative solution to a problem or finding unique products to fit our clients needs. When it comes to feeding our team’s creative energy Steve has a clear strategy, “Encourage people to do good work with customers that understand great design and promotions with a purpose. Do what makes you happy.”

The final question we asked Steve and Peter was, “How do you continue to grow as a leader?” Steve gives credit to his team, “I surround myself with great team members and actively seek knowledge from peer groups within and outside our industry.” Peter’s strategy is to keep an open mind and put the team’s needs first, “While it’s important to have a vision about where we’re going, it’s less about what direction I want us to go in, and more about allowing our team to embrace their own strengths and adaptability in the face of challenges.”

Overall, effective leadership is essential to a company. There are many leadership styles and strategies, but in the end a leader has to look at their team’s strengths and weaknesses and tailor their plan accordingly. There is no one size fits all leadership guide. Leaders also must be able to keep building on the knowledge they have and keep an open mind to learning new approaches.