Without an effective leader at the helm, your organisation is going nowhere. Or alternatively, it’s going everywhere, all at once, with no direction.

Learning how to become the leader of your organisation is essential to get it to where you want it to go. It comes more naturally to some people than others, but I do know is that it can be learnt and that it gets easier with practice and time.

The American businessman Max DePree said this about leadership: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

I think he made a good point. A leader needs to set out clearly what they want from their organisation and from the people who work for them (“defining reality”). A leader needs to be able to say: “This is where we are. This is where I want us to be. Here’s what I think we need to do to get there, and here are the reasons why.”

Take charge but don’t take over

This doesn’t mean that for a business to be effective it has to be a dictatorship. The development of the strategy for the business should be collaborative and inclusive so everyone feels involved and part of the process. But the buck has to stop somewhere.

And so, ultimately, someone needs to have the vision for the organisation. Someone needs to be able to articulate that vision and to communicate it effectively, so everyone in the organisation understands why they’re there and what they’re trying to achieve. That’s what leadership is.

If you’re running an SME, that someone is you.

Show appreciation

The next part of DePree’s quote talks about saying thank you. Recognition is an essential part of leadership. If people have done a good job and come through on what they’ve promised, thank them. If people go the extra mile for your organisation, acknowledge it.

Make sure your staff feel seen and heard and recognised. Make sure their work is being appreciated. Of course, people want financial compensation for what they’re doing, but simple and regular expressions of acknowledgement and gratitude are almost, if not equally, as important.

Finally, DePree says: “In between, the leader is a servant.” To understand that concept better, I’d point you to another great American businessman, Jack Welch. He said: “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

Make an investment

Invest in your people—not just financially, but with your time, your expertise, your personal interest. By helping people grow, develop and learn, you’re creating a whole new generation of people who can lead themselves one day and take the business forward.

Another element to this idea of serving your people is to lead by example. Behave the way you want to see them behave. Run the business in the way you expect them to run their own departments or their own careers, so you become a mentor and a guide; a servant as well as a leader.

Many of the issues in today’s In the Loop relate to the issue of leadership. Should employees be answering emails and calls outside of office hours? How do you handle employees who are working additional jobs? All these issues can be resolved with clear and strong leadership; by getting the right tone, the right strategy and the right policies; by setting the culture of the organisation from the very top, so expectations and aspirations are clear.

Whilst these issues will always be a headache, strong leadership makes the day-to-day management of them far less stressful, as does seeking the right help to assist you when you need it (another sign of a great leader is the willingness to acknowledge that you don’t know everything).

So, as ever, if you need any help with the issues we cover today, call our advice line on 0800 288 9012 for guidance from the experts on the best way to handle them.