Leadership is not easy. No matter how effortlessly some leaders appear to handle it, being an effective leader can be challenging. The good news is that the leader does not face the challenge alone. By definition, a leader has a group or a team working to meet challenges and achieve goals. A highly effective leader will have a team that is positioned, and even eager, to not only achieve their goals, but to excel and blaze the trail for others. Here are 10 ways to be an effective leader:
1. Listen and observe. It is important that a leader does not distance him or herself from the team that he or she is leading. Putting yourself on a leadership pedestal removes you from your team and distances you from what is truly going on. If you want to build a more engaged workforce, you need to be the first to engage. That means you need to work hard to connect face-to-face with the people you work with. Listen to them, both formally and informally. Observe from near and afar to truly see how your team is functioning; what is working and not working. Talk to people. Ask for their thoughts and ideas. Let them know you value them and their input. They are your team; they can make you or break you, and it’s important not to forget that. By letting your team know that you value their thoughts and ideas, you will not only gain their trust and respect, but show them that they have yours.
“A good leader leads the people from above them. A great leader leads the people from within them." ~ M. D. Arnold
2. Respect everyone. Show genuine respect for everyone no matter what level they’re at or to what rung on the ladder they’ve climbed. Despite titles or reporting structures, we’re all human, and it is human nature to want to feel respected. People are more likely to want to work hard for and follow a leader by whom they feel they’re respected. An effective leader knows this to be true and reflects it in their daily life and in their leadership.
“To add value to others, one must first value others." ~ John Maxwell
3. Set clear goals and ask how you can help them be achieved. Only when your team has a clear understanding of what your expectations are, can they work hard to help you meet them. Communicate openly and frequently with your team members ensuring that they know your goals not only for the unit, but for each of them individually as well. Do not be ambiguous and do not be afraid to set the bar high. Once your team has an understanding of the goals you’ve established, ask them what they need from you in order to achieve those goals. When your team knows what they’re working towards, and that you’re there to support them and give them what they need to succeed, you will have a team positioned to not only meet the bar, but exceed it.
“The victory of success is half won when one gains the habit of setting goals and achieving them.” ~ Og Mandino
4. Recognize people for what they contribute. Everyone contributes something to your team, and if they do not, they should not be a part of it. Appreciate everyone, and recognize and reward those that deserve it. When one knows that their hard work, dedication, ideas, and contributions are valued and recognized they will want to work hard, be dedicated, bring bright new ideas, and contribute more fully. By rewarding the type of behavior you want to see, you will inevitably see more of it.
"People work for money but go the extra mile for recognition, praise and rewards." ~ Dale Carnegie
5. Make decisions and don’t be afraid to explain them and stand behind them even if they're not popular. A good leader must be able to make decisions and stand by them, popular or not. If you cannot be decisive and confident in your leadership, how can your team be confident in you? Whether a popular one or not, making a decision, explaining why you reached that decision and putting it into action clearly and decisively will garnish you more respect than waffling and trying to please everyone. Confident decision-making also facilitates forward progress, and forward is the only way a great leader should want to go.
"A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others.” ~ Douglas MacArthur
6. Empower your people. Empowering people is the ongoing process of providing the tools, training, resources, encouragement, and motivation they need to perform at their optimum level. When your team members know that you trust them and have given them the tools and the authority to find solutions, they will be able to solve problems, provide solutions, and meet goals more effectively than someone without that empowerment.
"A leader is great, not because of his or her power, but because of his or her ability to empower others." ~ John C. Maxwell
7. Strive to improve. Unfortunately, once we accept the status quo, we tend to become complacent. Complacency can often lead to mediocrity, boredom, and lack of motivation. To keep yourself and your team motivated, engaged, and working toward common goals, you must always be striving to improve. If you’re good, strive to be great. If your great, strive to be even better. If you're meeting your goals, strive to exceed them. There’s always room for improvement. Push yourself to continue growing, learning, and improving and remind and encourage your team members to do the same, both individually and collectively.
“Who aims at excellence will be above mediocrity; who aims at mediocrity will be far short of it.” ~ Burmese Saying
8. Keep your promises and commitments, and own your mistakes. This one is all about trust. People will follow a leader that they trust, and will refuse the influence of leaders that they distrust. It is important that those you lead know that you stand behind your word, and that they can trust you to deliver on your promises. After all, they’re planning their work, their schedule, their hopes, and expectations based on what you’ve promised. Their trust for you is founded on your reliability to follow through, so do just that: follow through.
Likewise, it is important that you own your mistakes. While no one expects you, or any other leader to be perfect, they should be able to expect that you’ll be honest. Prove to those that you lead that you’re courageous enough and have enough integrity to own your mistakes and not cast blame on others. By honestly claiming your missteps, you’re more likely to endear yourself to your team and your colleagues, and to earn their trust and respect.
"The supreme quality of leadership is integrity." ~ Dwight Eisenhower
9. Ease fear and uncertainty. In the face of continual change and uncertainty in the global economy and the world at large, fear in the workplace has become increasingly common. This is a problem for an effective leader because fear is a strong demotivator, one which can cripple even the best leader’s team. To put it simply, fear is the ultimate culture-killer. Fear slows organizations down, causes hesitation, drives stress, and keeps individuals from reaching their potential. Unfortunately, most organizations have some level of fear that holds back the potential of their organization and their people.
To lead a successful team, you must ensure that fear does not become a negative driving force in your organization. As a good leader, you must focus on what is in your control, let go of those variables over which you have no control, and encourage your people to do the same. While there may be continued uncertainty, an effective team cannot let their focus be on what they can’t control. Rather, they must focus on those aspects over which they do have some measure of control and consequently, where efforts can be made to keep things moving forward. Don’t let fear paralyze you or your team.
"All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership." ~ John Kenneth Galbraith
10. Know your own values; live and lead with them. While leading your team and focusing on achieving goals, don’t lose sight of your own overriding values. Those values serve you well in life and will serve you well in leadership. Leading with values is important because it creates and maintains a quality culture, guides good employee selection, steers the direction of team growth, and adds meaning to the work. That meaning starts with the leader and passes down to all levels of the team. When you lead as you live and live as you lead, your peers and colleagues will have no doubt that you’re genuine and not simply guided by tired leadership cliches.
"The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves." ~ Ray Kroc
Great leaders inspire the members of their team to meet and exceed goals and objectives. No matter what type of organization you're in, it's possible to become a highly effective leader; one who inspires others to give their very best every day. Make a point of practicing these 10 leadership traits, to be the most effective leader you can be.