Being a successful leader requires both skill and knowledge, and it can have a significant impact on an organization's success and employee satisfaction. This article explores the best practices for effective leadership, which include earning trust, showing empathy, promoting accountability, nurturing your team's potential, and keeping communication proactive.
Leading a team is tricky, especially at first. Some fall into the role and seem to navigate the waters with ease. Others have a rocky road until they find their rhythm and flow.
Leadership is key in whether employees stay with a company or look for a new job. Several recent studies have demonstrated this: 63% of employees with a bad manager are considering leaving within the next year. Despite the best intentions and efforts, a leader’s limitations can prevent them from charting the best course. And this leads employees to lose faith in the organization.
The following practices will help you get where you want to be as a leader while building up your team to become leaders themselves.
Build trust among your team.
Trust is always the toughest step — almost as challenging as leading itself. This step can take some time. I’ve found that you build trust quickly by being motivating, decisive, and a partner. Be motivating by caring and listening about things your team cares about. Be decisive by creating a plan for shared success: The collective must recognize the benefits of working together. Be an authentic partner by being approachable.
Have empathy without being a pushover.
Often, having empathy is seen as a weakness. It’s not. It’s recognizing and understanding another point of view, especially regarding those on your team. Being involved doesn’t mean hand-holding your team through their day. It does mean taking the time to consider your team when they express a concern, inquire about challenges, and then listen to employees’ responses. The more you understand an employee’s basic needs and struggles and offer to guide them, the more they will feel connected and comfortable. Where are they from? Do they have pets? Kids? Hobbies? Favorite books or TV shows? Connect with them on non-work-related topics. Because when we feel connected, we feel more comfortable and understood. Empathy is built on trust.
Create accountability without micromanaging.
Is it possible to be empathetic yet firm? Absolutely. Creating accountability within your team involves being firm and fair with deadlines, learning from every situation, and leading with trust, even remotely. Deadlines are unavoidable, but they have varying degrees of importance. Managers should set clear expectations each day and week regarding what their priorities are and what determines success. There should be regular check-ins and systems for building trust and accountability.
Empower your team to lead.
Surround yourself with adaptable team members. Whether on vacation or retirement, is your team able to run without you? Once you have a team, evaluate their performance, and allow them to lead when ready. Along the way, provide feedback rather than instruction. Give your people the tools and freedom to learn their job and how to adapt to an ever-changing environment. The aim is to ensure that everyone on your team is enjoying working toward the same goals and that they want the same outcome. Provide “why” they are doing something, not just the “how.”
Communicate proactively and frequently.
Communication with and among your team must always be active. Being a solid leader is about more than just being a specific style of manager. It is about knowing three things:
Your natural leadership style. I recommend the work of Douglas McGregor to help determine this, especially his Theory X and Theory Y.
What combination of leadership styles is needed for different phases of work?
What combination of styles is appropriate for the team being led and the individuals within it? Individuals come with their personalities and methods of operations, but they must all work together toward a common goal. It’s important to understand that various styles can and will be put into practice to reach that goal and to be able to communicate across these different styles.
With leadership, no map exists to arrive at the right destination. Leadership must be in constant evolution. Whether you are leading a team of one or twenty, get to know your people, have a (flexible) plan of approach, and explore implementing these practices. I invite you to chat with me about what leadership changes can be implemented.