If you're interested in learning how to be a better leader, one of the most effective ways may be through an observable set of behaviors that a good leader exhibits day in and day out.
But what are those good leadership behaviors? For the past 30 years, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have gathered and analyzed data on the behaviors of leaders. (Kouzes and Posner are the dean’s executive fellow of leadership and professor of leadership at Santa Clara University respectively.) Their current database includes responses from approximately 1.3 million respondents. The ongoing research reveals that good leaders follow five leadership practices. Each of the practices is actionable through six behaviors, for a total of 30 leadership behaviors.
I've included an example of the behaviors good leaders display for each of the five practices.You can see all 30 behaviors in the authors' book, The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations.
- Model the Way: Asks for feedback on how his or her actions affect performance
- Inspire a Shared Vision: Describes a compelling image of the future
- Challenge the Process: Asks “What can we learn?”
- Enable Others to Act: Gives people choices about how to do their work
- Encourage the Heart: Finds ways to celebrate accomplishments
The research has shown that the more a leader exhibits these 30 behaviors, the more people may view him or her as a better leader. When it comes to how to be a better leader, it's important to note that it's not how well leaders practice these behaviors, but how frequently they're seen engaging in the behaviors. This may help you when you set out to learn how to be a better leader.
Here are some tips on how you may incorporate some of these behaviors in your day-to-day leadership and some suggestions on how to be a better leader:
Make Asking for Feedback a Leadership Habit
If you're interested in how to be a better leader, consider establishing a regular process to seek feedback from your team. To get you started, here are three questions you could ask your employees:
- In the last six months, what have I done that has helped you be more effective in your work?
- In the last six months, what have I done that may have hindered you in accomplishing your best work?
- In the next six months, what is one thing that I can do to help you achieve your goals?
You can also consider asking for feedback from your network outside your organization. Trusted professionals who know you well may be able to provide invaluable feedback to help you be a better leader.
Paint a Vivid and Dynamic Picture of the Future
Helping people see the exciting possibilities of the future before they're obvious may be one of the key elements of how to be a better leader. As Napoleon once said, "a leader is a dealer in hope." To learn how to be a better leader, one can look at great leaders of the past to find this common trait: Better leaders can help people glean a tomorrow that's better than today.
But it may not be enough to have a positive outlook and to tell people about the vision by issuing a vision statement. Knowing how to paint a picture of the vision, and doing so in a way that makes it easier for people to envision it and to want to share in it, may help you capture your audience's attention.
When it comes to how to be a better leader, you may want to ask how you can paint a clear vision that helps people see it, grasp it and get excited about it. There are many tools that may help you talk about the broader, bigger, better tomorrow in a way that people might be able to see it in their mind's eye:
- Craft a compelling story. You may want to start by reminding people where they've been as a team or organization, and what they've already accomplished. Making them feel proud of their contributions to bring the company to where it is today may help them follow your vision. You then may want to talk about the current situation by mentioning any challenges that need to be overcome, and the opportunities to be seized. Connecting the dots between the past and the present may help show people what can be accomplished in the future. This may be the arc of history that can release the power and the energy for people to be enthused about what's to come. Making the future a stretch goal, but one that's realistic and achievable, may help bring people into your vision.
- Make use of figurative language to bring the vision to life. Using metaphors, symbols, analogies and similes may help people better visualize your vision. These can be the icing on the cake when you're trying to engage people's imagination. It may give them another dimension for "seeing" the vision.
- Speak from the heart. If you need guidance, consider:
- talking about the greater purpose behind what you're doing may help you
- talking about aspirations for yourself as a leader, for the team and for the organization as a whole
- talking about the values that are congruent with the vision
- talking about resilience and perseverance in the face of challenges.
Change Your Default Behavior When Things Go Wrong
It's safe to say that when things go wrong, many of us might try to find out who's to blame. Of course it can be helpful to get to the bottom of mistakes when they occur. But those who wonder how to be better leaders may also want to take a moment to ask, "What can we learn from what happened?" Capturing the lesson from the experience may help you avoid it in the future. Consider using what you learn from your inquiry to set up procedures or safeguards to keep the same mistake from recurring. This attitude towards mistakes may make employees feel safe enough to come forward if they have made an honest mistake.
Using your emotional intelligence may help you deal with the employee who made the mistake. Most people are unhappy and embarrassed when they make a mistake. Consider giving them a little time to manage their emotions before you have a deeper dialogue on what happened. You may be able to use the mistake as an opportunity to help them develop and improve.
Give Them Elbow Room
If you've picked good people—people who have the skills and abilities you need, and people who are trustworthy—consider trusting that they will do their job. This doesn't mean that you should be a hands-off leader. It just means that it may be prudent to rein in your interference if it's excessive. For example, asking to be copied on every email, asking for frequent updates and progress reports, paying excessive attention to every detail or avoiding delegating any decisions to staff may do more harm than good. Excessive micromanaging may bottleneck processes and may slow down productivity. In the long run, it may demotivate the best of your team and may hurt employee morale.
Consider doing an analysis of your time to see how much time you might be spending in micromanaging the work of others. You may want to ask yourself where else you could use this time to help you grow your business. How might the saved time help you focus on priorities? How might you be better able to fulfill your strategic imperatives if you had more time? This personal time audit might be a sobering exercise.
Beat The Drum More Often
You may not want to wait for big accomplishments to celebrate. At the beginning of a long project, consider setting milestones at intervals along the way and scheduling a small celebration when each step is achieved. This could be as simple as sending an appreciative email to everyone on the team to mark the event, ordering pizza for everyone or going for dinner after work. This may reinforce people's feelings, or remind them, that they're working for a winning organization.
As Santa Clara University's Kouzes and Posner put it, "Leadership is not about personality; it’s about behavior—an observable set of skills and abilities." If you're interested in how to be a better leader, consider making some of these behaviors a part of your operating system as a leader.
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