Six Actionable Ideas for Becoming a More Effective Leader

Jason Thorn By: Jason Thorn

When starting and growing a business, there’s no question that strong leadership is critical to success. At Mainsail, we have seen that leadership is a skillset shared by all of the founders we have partnered with—not necessarily because they are all natural-born leaders, but because they are all committed to continually improving their leadership.

There are many ways to think about leadership, and we like to define it as the ability to guide others towards their highest level of performance to achieve a common set of goals.

At Mainsail, we continually work to improve our understanding of leadership and our own leadership capabilities given the critical role it plays in growing a business. As part of that effort, we recently participated in a four-day course on leadership and came away with a number of actionable ideas that can be used to become a better leader.

1.Don’t delegate—deputize

Delegating is gathering a set of tasks and handing them over to someone else to complete. Deputizing is identifying a problem and giving your direct report full responsibility to develop the solution. When you delegate, you take work off your plate but fail to develop a sense of ownership in your team. When you deputize, you create a team that takes ownership for outcomes.

2.Develop employees who can take your job

It is important to continually look for opportunities to develop your employees beyond assigning work that needs to be completed. When defining an employee’s responsibilities, think about what skills your employees need to develop to take the next steps in their careers and assign specific projects that will enable them to develop those skills. This kind of professional development will be highly motivating for your employees as they are able to connect the dots between the skills they are learning and the positions they aspire to attain. It will also be beneficial for your company as you identify your future leaders.

3.Don’t do all the coaching yourself

You don’t have to do all of the coaching yourself. Look for opportunities to broaden your employees’ education by leveraging other training opportunities. Consider interdepartmental cross-training, job rotations, third-party training or encouraging employees to get involved in civic or non-profit organizations. By exposing employees to multiple viewpoints and management styles, you provide them with a more well-rounded development experience and create stronger relationships across your organization.

4.Listening is more effective than lecturing

The most effective leaders are those who encourage interactive communication. When you interact with your employees in this way, it inspires them to take ownership of their decisions while you benefit by gaining insight into how they make those decisions. A good tool for practicing active listening is the LADDER approach: Look at the other person, Ask questions, Don’t interrupt, Don’t change the subject, Express emotion with control, Respond appropriately.

5.Invest in employee engagement

Employee engagement is one of the biggest drivers a leader has to improve outcomes. When employees are engaged, they have a deeper sense of commitment to the broader vision of the organization and therefore will be strong contributors toward that vision. To increase employee engagement, try pulling on these three levers: (1) relationship with the direct manager, (2) belief in the senior leadership, and (3) pride in the organization.

6.Show your appreciation

Compensation is only one of many forms of recognition, and you can get significant leverage out of showing your appreciation in other ways. It can be formal like a sales award, informal like an impromptu lunch, or casual like a verbal “thank you”. Think about which of these you practice most frequently, then supplement with the others to ensure you’re resonating with all of your employees.

Leadership in 2020

Leadership takes hard work, thoughtful practice and continuous improvement. At Mainsail, we are constantly working to learn more about leadership because we understand how crucial it is to the success of the companies we support. As we launch into a new year, we hope these ideas can serve as actionable tools as you continue to grow your companies.


Jason Thorn
Jason is a Vice President at Mainsail. He is responsible for originating, executing, and supporting investments in software companies.
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