When we were children, we played games like “Follow the Leader”. One person would be the “leader”, and invent all sorts of silly things for the rest of the group to do, like jumping in place, or rubbing our bellies and patting our heads, or imitating goofy noises as a group.
The Weight of Leadership
But after a while, every leader started to run out of ideas. The novelty wore off, and suddenly, being a leader wasn’t so appealing. It was a chore to keep everyone’s attention, and encouraging each individual to stay with the activity soon became more than a movement, noise, or gesture. It was work.
As adults, the stakes are even higher for those in leadership positions. Not only do you need to encourage your team, but you’re responsible for the overall success of the team.
You need to inspire and motivate team members towards growth and innovation. But how? What does good leadership entail, and how do you become an effective leader?
While there is no step-by-step guide to being a good leader, there are many key traits and components to adopting a leadership style that is effective for all parties involved.
What Is a Leader?
Some people are said to be “born leaders”, and there may be truth to that concept. There are individuals who effortlessly organize groups, communicate clearly and succinctly, and seem to float towards a common goal.
At the same time, many of us struggle with managing a variety of different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, all while enforcing rules and keeping everyone focused.
In today’s corporate setting, leadership lines may be more blurred than ever, with several layers of middle management, supervisors, project leads, team leads, and Senior Team Member designations all attempting to cooperate on the same initiative without a clear picture of where the leadership power and responsibilities lie.
This confusion tends to distract from common goals and collaboration, creating an awkward struggle throughout the team, rather than a sense of cohesiveness.
A truly effective leader, therefore, is someone who takes initiative. While we typically think of a leader as the person who doles out chores and responsibilities to others, the first priority of a good leader should be to claim accountability for the team, its goals, and the overall outcome of the work done.
With that level of responsibility in mind, a leader should ensure that all of their actions are pointed towards helping team members grow and thrive, and creating an environment where success is possible.
Read also: Powerful tips to become more successful.
How Can I Become an Effective Leader?
There are many different types of leadership, and it’s impossible to say whether one is more effective than another. Different leaders bring their own qualities to the table, and different team members respect and respond personally to the various types of leadership.
Understanding and Communication
One key concept that can help a leader to be the most effective in their role is that of understanding their team members. A good leader should delegate tasks and communicate in a way that earns trust and helps workers thrive.
Even a very small team is made of very different individuals, who have their own skills, talents, communication styles, and ways of learning.
By taking the time to understand what makes each team member “tick”, and appreciating the strengths and challenges that each team member brings to the table, an effective leader sets the stage for optimizing delegation and clear, transparent communication.
Honesty and transparency are also key traits for effective leaders. While barking out orders in a weekly meeting can technically be considered “leadership,” it is rarely effective.
Workers want to know what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and feel empowered to discuss progress and obstacles with their team members and leadership.
Problem solving, and avoiding huge delays or expenses, is something that effective leaders can encourage by promoting clear communication at all times.
This level of honesty and openness leads to trust, which is crucial for a high-performing team to be successful. An effective leader will find that providing an environment where feedback and guidance are available and respectfully shared will mitigate distractions, gossip, and other behaviors that can quickly disintegrate office morale. An unhappy team is rarely productive, to boot.
Leadership = Accountability
Of course, inspiring confidence amongst team members also requires a significant amount of accountability on behalf of a leader, as well.
A leader who admits fault and assigns praise where it’s due, will be far more trustworthy than one who is constantly nagging team members for failures, or threatening them for poor performance.
An effective leader knows that a team performs only as well as its leader, and takes accountability for all actions: not just the positive outcomes.
What Are Some Steps to Take Towards Being an Effective Leader?
To be an effective leader, you need to understand your team members, facilitate clear and open communication, and take accountability for the team and all of its endeavors.
So what are some basic concepts you can do to make these things happen?
Listen Your Team Members
First, practice active listening. Don’t just hear the words team members say, but understand the motivations and frustrations behind what they are saying. That may take the shape of spending time with the team as a whole, or carving out some one-on-one touchbase time.
Listening is just the first step, however. An effective leader is an active member of the team. That means holding focus on the team’s work, and providing feedback and guidance along the way.
Being involved in projects, while still allowing team members the autonomy to make decisions and try new solutions, is a very important step towards accountability and clarity.
Empathy Strengthen Leadership
Lastly, exercise empathy. While a leader may need to dole out negative feedback, or deal with some complicated situations, there is always a way to do so with dignity and respect for everyone involved.
Team members do not want a leader who shames them publicly, or whom they fear. An effective leader earns respect by treating others fairly, and without losing sight of how each role impacts the team as a whole.
Leadership can be tricky, with many projects and personalities at play.
To become an effective leader, it is most important to understand all of the key traits and tasks at hand, and to establish trust and accountability. Clear and honest communication is one of the easiest ways to ensure everyone is on the same page, and leads to a positive work environment that is productive and thriving.
While effective leadership may come more naturally to some, everyone has the opportunity to practice the skills of a good and trustworthy leader.