Four Simple Steps You Can Take to Become a More Effective Leader
I’m often asked what it takes to be an effective leader. Which qualities should you emphasize? Which strategies should you employ? How do you manage the balance between individual employees and the team as a whole?
Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed (and tried) many different leadership techniques and styles, and noticed that the strongest leaders I’ve known all share some similar qualities.
Here are some steps you can take to develop your own leadership skills:
Build a Culture Based on Trust and Respect
The first step toward becoming an effective leader is developing a strong culture of trust and respect.
Why is this so important? Harvard Business Review says it best: “If people trust each other and their leaders, they’ll be able to work through disagreements. They’ll take smarter risks. They’ll work harder, stay with the company longer, contribute better ideas, and dig deeper than anyone has a right to ask.”
The first step toward building trust within your team is to trust the team yourself. The most effective leaders build teams from people with diverse backgrounds and skill sets, and the most confident leaders aren’t afraid to hire people who are even stronger than they are in various aspects. When you build a team of people who you respect both personally and professionally, trust between both parties is the natural consequence.
Look at Each Team Member Individually
Of course your team has overarching goals you need them to achieve, but each individual’s performance plays a role. By truly getting to know each member of your team and his or her weaknesses, you can help each person do their best - both for themselves and for the entire group.
Pay attention to each of your employees to see what makes them tick. A strategy that works to incentivize one person could act as a deterrent for another.
Learning these personality differences can be key to motivating your team to perform its best, and treating each person as an individual rather than solely focusing on the group as a whole will help continue to build the culture of trust and respect.
Keep Open Lines of Communication
Trust is the foundation for effective leadership, and communication is the key to keeping it going.
Leaders have a clear vision of how they see their teams moving forward, but team members can’t act on that vision if it’s not communicated to them clearly and regularly.
Set expectations and ensure each member of your team understands what is expected of him or her, and how their individual responsibilities will help the team reach its goals. This helps each person remain accountable for his or her performance, and helps them determine when it’s better to take a risk or the safer route.
One strategy I’ve found helpful for keeping communication lines open is implementing an open-door policy. This was a major tenant of leadership when I worked at Hewlett Packard, and has stuck with me to this day. An open-door policy allows team members to seek out their managers to ask them about any issue, knowing that their concerns will be received with respect, encouraging open, honest communication.
Give Credit Where Credit is Due
The strongest leaders I know amplify the accomplishments of their team members instead of taking the credit for themselves. Sure, your leadership set the goals and guided your employees’ processes, but their hard work is what got it done.
I have always made it a point to recognize individual team members for their accomplishments, and also to highlight my team to my own managers and other executives. This is essential in maintaining a culture of trust and respect - not only does it make people feel good to be recognized, but they’re also getting exposure to those higher up in the company, which could lead to a promotion or new direction within the company down the road.
Good leaders build people up to help them reach their peak potential, and public recognition of their accomplishments is a simple yet strong incentive to help your team members do their best.
Managers vs. Leaders: The Key Difference
One of the first things I learned early in my career was that there is a major difference between a manager and a true leader. A manager gets their team to do their jobs, while a leader inspires them to go above and beyond.
Whereas a manager often instructs an employee what to do, a leader will more often ask questions such as:
What do you think?
How could we do this better?
What do you need from me in order to succeed?
These questions are effective whether you work at a small business or a huge enterprise, a government agency or at a not-for-profit organization.
By building a culture of trust, respecting each of your employees as an individual, keeping communication open and honest, and recognizing each person for his or her accomplishments, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a strong, effective leader.
This article was originally published in March 2018 and has been updated.