There is a long-held conventional wisdom in the workplace that leadership and management are two totally different entities. A good leader possesses strengths and qualities that a good manager might not, yet in many ways these skills are far more important to an organisation than being able to report on a budget or explain a pie chart.
So what are these skills? And how do you adapt your style to be a better leader, without compromising the technical aspects of management? There are, after all, countless books written on the subject.
Luckily, we have saved you some time and created some handy tips to help you tackle these questions. Follow the steps below, and we guarantee you will become a more effective and successful leader at work…
1. Be a Positive Role Model
It’s an old adage, but it still rings true; you should never ask someone to do something that you would never do yourself. This is one of the cornerstones of effective leadership and encapsulates the mantra of leading by example.
Psychology expert Kendra Cherry agrees. “If you want to become a better leader,” she says, “work on modelling the qualities that you would like to see in your team members”.
This means being the last person to leave the office during a tight deadline, and the first to come in. “As a result,” adds Cherry, “group members will admire you, and work to emulate these behaviours”.
2. Become an Effective Communicator
Strong communication is a vital component in the success of any organisation, and it should be at its most effective when coming from management. It should also work both ways though, and a good leader knows how to listen as much as they dictate. When talking to staff, remember the following:
- Be friendly and approachable
- Give your employees your undivided attention when they are talking to you (shut your office door and ignore or politely bat away non-urgent phone calls)
- Make eye contact as they speak (don’t be checking your phone or your emails)
- Maintain the confidentiality of the conversation
This last point is important, as it will build trust between you and your staff. It is also a good idea to clarify any points raised in an email afterwards, to make sure you are both on the same page.
“Be sure your staff knows of your expectations for them,” says entrepreneur Murray Newlands. “But also let them know they may freely and openly discuss workplace issues with you”.
3. Have an Ally
Management is often seen as a lonely perch, but it doesn’t need to be. Every leader has someone they can bounce ideas off, or turn to for advice; whether this is a trusted colleague within your team or someone with similar skills and experience away from the office, it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion on something.
Former manager John Brandon says this is a vital part of the learning process. “I had a few co-workers who tried to give me advice,” he says, “but I had the mindset of a lone wolf and tuned it out. I was wrong. It’s critical to look for this feedback as a development step”.
4. Empower Employees
Encouraging creativity is an essential part of developing your staff. If an employee comes to you with a problem on a project, you shouldn’t just tell them what to do; you should try to guide them so that they come up with the answer themselves.
“If you want your staff to do their best work, you need to give them the freedom to brainstorm and explore,” says Alexander Negresh, a marketing director with a cloud storage company. This shouldn’t just be a token gesture either. “Be open to your team’s ideas and suggestions, and be ready to consider them and possibly develop them further”.
You should also try to challenge your staff. There is nothing more boring than doing the same tasks day in day out, and it can cause dissatisfaction in the office; Newlands argues that learning and mastering new challenges gives employees a sense of achievement instead. Guide and train your staff to do different things. “Along with constructive feedback,” he says, “it shows that you have confidence in their skills and that you value them as part of the organisation”.
5. Mix Business With Personal
Although some would contend that this isn’t always a good idea, Newlands disagrees. He argues that employees feel more valued when their boss takes an interest in their family life or their recreational activities.
Of course, you don’t need to go overboard, but politely asking after a spouse or how someone’s golf season is going once in a while will endear you. “It demonstrates that you care about them as human beings,” says Newlands, “and that you don’t just consider them as another name on the company payroll”.
Additionally, share a few personal tidbits about yourself as well. During meetings, don’t just jump straight into the budget report; share a recent story about something funny your kids said or a recent vacation you took. “Let your employees know a little more about you,” says Brandon. “Let them know you are a human too, and that you exist as a person outside of work”.
6. Show Humility
Being able to admit your mistakes – and apologise for them – is not weakness; it is good leadership. People can forgive mistakes if the person responsible holds their hands up to it; in fact, it can even work in your favour.
“When you admit a mistake, your employees feel safe admitting a mistake,” explains Newlands. “Accepting that individuals make mistakes will create a more cooperative atmosphere in your company”.
Additionally, when something goes well, ensure the team gets the credit rather than you. Put the emphasis on their achievements more than your own. “Such actions show your human side, and help you gain the respect of employees and customers alike,” he adds.
7. Be Fair
One of the great debates of virtual and face-to-face management is the benefits of praise versus criticism as a motivating factor, but the reality is most employees simply value fairness. If they have done something well, they expect to be praised, and if they have performed poorly, they can expect the opposite.
Brandon thinks you should be much quicker to focus on the positives though. “We live in complex, competitive times,” he argues. “People are inundated with too many tasks and not enough time, and need constant encouragement. Always point out the ‘wins’, no matter how small”.
That said, constructive criticism has its place. If someone is performing poorly and doesn’t respond to an ‘arm around the shoulder’, then maybe you need to try a more robust approach. As long as you are fair and constructive, this can have a positive impact on some employees – just be careful. “If you do have to criticize,” adds Brandon, “think seriously about the impact first”.
8. Reward Success
In a similar vein, team success should be celebrated accordingly – especially when it’s a big result. Depending on the team’s budget, taking the team out for celebratory drinks or a banana sundae can be a great way to demonstrate that their hard work and effort is appreciated, and maintain morale within the office.
It can also build momentum. “A big success is something to cherish and relish when it happens,” says Brandon. When it is rewarded properly, it can motivate people to push further on the next project.
9. Give Regular Feedback
One-on-one feedback is a very delicate art and can separate the good leaders from the bad. There is nothing worse as an employee than realising your annual performance review is essentially a copy-and-paste with just the names changed; it shows that as a boss, you couldn’t really care less about the progression and development of your staff.
It also demonstrates that you don’t know the strengths and weaknesses of your team, and therefore how to best utilize them. The best way to avoid this is to meet one-on-one regularly so that you can set goals and assess them more than once a year.
You should use these meetings to discuss any concerns the employee may have, as well as to look at their performance informally. It is important to highlight where people are doing well – and you should always emphasise the positives more – but you should also look for areas of improvement.
“If you’re not honest, people won’t know what you think of them,” says Taso Du Val, a recruitment expert. “And if they don’t know that, then they will never be able to improve”.
10. Learn From Your Team
In a leadership role, never assume that you know everything – because the fact is you don’t. Business consultant Brent Gleeson argues that delusions of omnipotence are an automatic path to failure, and should always be avoided.
“Good leaders know when to take charge of a situation, and when to let the more knowledgeable and experienced people lead the way,” he says. This isn’t laziness or poor leadership; it is an invaluable opportunity to learn and develop from the talent you have available to you, and to take on board new skills.
Even the most experienced leaders cannot be experts in everything, and knowing when to take a step back is an important part of management. “Soak up as much knowledge as you can,” concludes Gleeson, “and learn something new every day. In the long run, you’ll be better informed when making strategic decisions”.
Remember, the main difference between good bosses and bad bosses in the workplace is simple. Good leaders put their employees first, while bad ones are only focused on themselves; always consider the impact of others on any decision you make, and never prioritise personal gains over the best interests of those you lead. Follow this advice, and you won’t go far wrong.
What makes a great leader in your opinion? Are the above points a good indicator? Let us know in the comments below…