What's the one thing that every leader has in common? Someone willing to follow them. Of course, not all leaders are the same. But what makes some leaders more impactful than others? Relying on “Just do what I say" isn't an effective way to lead teams anymore, even if you have a lofty title. So what can you do instead? To help answer that question, I reached out to a variety of experienced leadership coaches and business leaders to find out their tips on how you can lead your team more effectively.
1. Encourage Collaboration
The role of a leader is to encourage the team to collaborate and get the work done, says Jennifer Hancock, a leadership coach and CEO of Humanist Learning Systems in Manatee County, Florida. “If you are not oriented to being of service to your team, you won't be leading them," she says. “You will instead be acting as a dictator, telling them what they should be doing. Leaders encourage, enable and support. They serve their team—not the other way around." Hancock also says that the leader can step in to make decisions when the team is having trouble reaching consensus. They act as a tie breaker for the team so the team can keep moving forward.
2. Listen More
One skill that every great leader needs to possess is being able to listen. “Employees want their voices to be heard and it's more important than ever to have your finger on the pulse of your company as a leader," says Alex Onaindia, CEO of Distinction Agency, a marketing agency in Miami. “Some of the best ideas are ones you never think of and it's important to foster a culture of open communication and transparency. I'm a firm believer that no idea from anyone on my team is a bad idea." Onaindia says that every idea comes down to just two questions:
- Is this idea in our best interest as a company?
- Can we implement and execute on this idea?
3. Set a Vision
Great leaders set a clear vision and goals for their teams and constantly reinforce them. “Setting a clear vision provides teams an understanding of why their work is valuable," says Carlos Castelán, managing director of The Navio Group, a retail business management consulting firm in Minneapolis that works with senior leaders. “Clear goals help individuals focus on work—and have autonomy—in pursuit of the company's vision. Reinforcing the vision and goals helps employees remember how their work helps others and makes them feel a part of the larger team."
4. Admit Your Flaws
Leaders can get so caught up in the politics of their organizations and in managing appearances, they can forget that what people respond to is not perfection, but sincerity and honesty, says Dr. Aaron Barth, founder and president of Dialectic, an HR and leadership consulting firm in Guelph, Ontario. “Actively cultivating an environment where people can try, fail and try again drives better problem-solving, innovation and creativity," he says. “And that starts with you, the leader, making your missteps visible to your team."
5. Build Relationships
A potentially overlooked skill, especially for new leaders, is building relationships inside the organization from day one. “In the first six months, this may include spending half of her time meeting with various team members and managers or traveling to other locations within the organization," says Paul Maranville, managing partner of Lantern Partners, an executive recruiting firm in Chicago. “This will immediately position this person as a visible, approachable team player. In turn, she will build credibility within the organization and become a go-to, trusted leader for her niche in the organization."
6. Develop Others
To be a great leader, you also need to coach your team in a way that helps align their individual goals with those of the team or organization. “A leader using this style is empathic and encouraging, and focuses on developing others for future success," says Madineyah Isaacs, a life and leadership coach based in New York City. The downside to taking this approach, Isaacs says, is that it involves having in-depth conversations with colleagues that may have little to do with current work. The goal, however, is to instead focus on long-term life goals and how these connect with the group's mission.
7. Compliment Often
Finding time to praise the work and effort of your team can go a long way—especially when it comes to giving them credit you might have taken for yourself. “A true leader is comfortable and at ease and realizes that acknowledging someone else's efforts takes nothing away from their abilities," says Angela Civitella, founder and CEO of INTINDE, a leadership business coaching firm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Quite the contrary, compliments are bountiful for having been able to source such great talent."
Employees want their voices to be heard and it's more important than ever to have your finger on the pulse of your company as a leader.
—Alex Onaindia, CEO, Distinction Agency
8. Keep Your Promises
If you're having trouble engaging team members with their jobs, it can be tempting to start making promises related to things such as salaries, bonuses or career growth opportunities, says Andrea Angelucci, Manager of COMPASS Services at Mazzitti & Sullivan EAP in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “But if you can't deliver, these empty promises will only serve to break the trust between you and your direct reports," she says. “Only make promises when you know you can deliver on them."
9. Stoke Your Team's Energy
With every project, there are peaks and valleys in everyone's workload. That's why effective leaders must manage a team's energy across different settings, says Juliana Stancampiano, CEO of Oxygen, a Seattle-based organization specializing in workplace education and enablement. “Leaders create and maintain a space where teammates can show up, share their thoughts, disagree and figure out a way forward," she says. They de-escalate energy when it rises, allow it to get intense if that is needed, and always bring it back to a place of productive energy. This is critical if you don't want to burn out your people, and yet enable your team to give consistent high performance."
In the end, becoming a more effective leader is certainly more of an art than a science. Oftentimes, it can mean adapting to the team you have or the circumstances at hand. But if you begin your transformation with these nine tips in mind, your journey to becoming a more effective leader will be underway.
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