Being a leader of any type can be a daunting responsibility, but as you adopt a leadership mindset and incorporate a few actions into your day-to-day activities, you can be a highly effective leader who inspires team members to do their best work.
Here are five essential skills that will help you be a leader at work, no matter the role you play. These practical solutions and strategies will help you improve your leadership effectiveness and drive your team forward.
Lay a Foundation of Trust
Trust is pivotal to your team’s success. Trusting relationships create a psychologically safe and collaborative work environment where everyone feels empowered to share ideas and talents and contribute to the team and organization’s success.
You can build a foundation of trust by:
- Practicing transparency. Avoid keeping team members in the dark about important issues. Consistently share information and updates so they are well informed and equipped with the information needed to build alignment and fulfill their responsibilities. Keep in mind that transparency does not mean you can be open about everything—it is important to know where and when to draw the line and protect confidential topics.
- Practice self-accountability. Lead by example. Abide by the timelines you agree to, follow through on commitments, and be prepared for meetings. As you are accountable for actions, milestones, and results, your team will be more likely to follow suit. When you have an accountability failure, promptly own up to it and resolve any issues it created.
- Delegate. Find opportunities to delegate projects, tasks and responsibilities to team members. This communicates that you trust them and are confident in their abilities to deliver results. Delegating not only establishes trust—it is the ideal way to help team members learn and grow.
- Sharing your leadership values with the team. If you are working with a newer team or new team members, take time to communicate your leadership values and the guiding principles with which you operate. This will give them a chance to get to know you better and build emotional connections that lead to higher levels of trust. It will also help you be accountable to the values to which you ascribe to.
Being a coach is one of the most important responsibilities you have as a leader, but to improve your leadership effectiveness you too need to be coachable and teachable. As much as your team members learn from you, you should also learn from your team and take full advantage of the experience and insights they have to offer.
Here are some ways you can be more teachable and receptive to coaching from others:
- Be open and humble. Good leadership requires humility. Though you may be the formal leader, this does not mean you don’t have things you can learn from your team members. Be open to their thoughts, experience, and knowledge. Regularly ask for feedback. Doing this will help you improve your knowledge, skills, and abilities, and build a coaching up culture within the team.
- Ditch the “my way or the highway” perspective. A rigid, highly-directive approach to leadership can stifle engagement and team morale. As noted above, humility plays a crucial role in leadership so be open to new perspectives and ideas. As you listen carefully to team member ideas, find ways to incorporate them into team practices and deliverables. Allowing team members to collaborate and influence the work of the team will spur creativity and innovation and help the organization achieve a competitive edge through continuous improvement.
- Recognize your opportunities for improvement. No one, no matter what title they have, is perfect. Engage in self-reflection and identify blind spots that may be limiting your effectiveness. In addition to self-reflection, actively seek out feedback, mentoring, and coaching that will enable you to surface strengths to leverage and weaknesses to manage or develop.
- Leverage diverse voices and perspectives. Leadership excellence thrives on diversity of thought and avoiding group think. Your team members, colleagues and other leaders have different experiences and backgrounds, so tap into these differences. What could you learn from them? How could you use their experience and perspective to hone your leadership style? How could this diversity help you achieve new levels of performance and results?
Listen with Intent
Good leaders are good listeners. This involves:
- Managing how much you listen vs. how much you talk. When engaging in dialogue with others, be present and actively listen. Manage your environment so you are not distracted by phones, messages, and other work. Be sure to make eye contact with the person speaking and truly listen to the message rather than planning out your response. Allow others to voice their opinions and fully express thoughts and ideas.
- Being a good communicator. Poor communication can lead to low morale, high turnover, misalignment, and low performance. In fact, poor communication costs large companies an average of $62.4 million annually. Smaller businesses risk losing $420,000 annually. Being a good communicator requires honing your verbal, non-verbal, and written communication skills. Focus on clarity, open-ended questions, and empathy when conversing with team members. Always check for understanding.
- Following through on what you hear. Being a good listener should occur during a dialogue, but to really excel as a leader you also need to follow through on what you hear. If your team members are sharing information about inefficiencies, problems, concerns, or issues, make a plan to alleviate those pain points. This will help your team members know that they have been heard and create an environment where people are more likely to speak up about important issues that can help or hinder the success of the team and the organization.
Let Setbacks Inspire Success
Setbacks and failure are inevitable in any team, and effective leaders understand this. In fact, they take full advantage of it knowing that it is part of the growth and development process.
Here are ways you can help your team turn setbacks and failures into important breakthroughs and learning opportunities:
- Do not reprimand team members for failing. Instead, help them view failure as a learning opportunity. Remind them that continuous improvement drives great success. As you coach and guide team members on analyzing why the setback or failure occurred, invite team members to think about takeaways or create a development plan that allows them to apply new insights moving forward.
- Offer encouragement. Adversity and setbacks happen, but they should not stop your team members from moving forward. Provide regular encouragement and feedback. Help and support people as they work through challenges, problem solve, and achieve the right results. Providing this kind of support will enable them to take responsibility for finding a new way forward and unleash their motivation to succeed.
- Admit your mistakes. As the leader, set the example about how to handle problems, setbacks, and failures. Rather than covering up your errors or shifting blame, own up to them. Then, share with your team how you plan to fix them and what you have learned. This will encourage your team to be open and transparent —a key quality in helping leaders, teams and organizations achieve higher levels of performance.
Create an Accountability Focused Culture
Not only do leaders need to model high levels of visible personal accountability, they need to help team members do the same. To establish a team that’s rooted in accountability, leaders must be actively engaged in coaching others. Coaching is the key to accountability and achieving results through others. Here are some essential coaching skills to keep in mind as you engage others in formal and informal coaching:
- Define expectations and results. When delegating and building plans, define what success looks like in a project or task. Give people enough information that they will be able to answer questions like:
- What role will I play?
- What positive and negative consequences will occur if we do or don’t achieve our objective
- Create milestones. Set accountability checkpoints or identify milestones to help everyone stay on track. Incremental accountability will help the team address challenges early on. For example, if a project needs to be completed in 30 days, work with team members to set incremental deadlines that will ultimately lead to achievement of the project objective.
- Make accountability a priority. When you don’t hold people accountable, you send a message to your team that standards, protocols, processes, or results are loose or negotiable. Clarify the impact and consequences of their action or inaction. Then, when accountability breakdowns occur, promptly address the situation. Keep in mind that holding people accountable is a daily process and as you build an accountability culture over time, it will become the standard by which everyone operates.