It is a common belief that leaders are ‘born’ and not ‘made’. We tend to think that if someone has all the right leadership traits, or are a subject matter expert, they will automatically be a good leader. In truth, leadership is honed through hard work and refining a particular skill set.
It is, in general, a learned behaviour – and one that we can work to become excellent at. Becoming a good leader isn’t just about hard work, it’s about focusing on the needs of a team outside of your own. Here’s how to get started.
1. Influence properly
You’ve just been awarded a leadership position. You are now in a place where you hold some sort of influence on those employees on your team.
You can use this opportunity to positively influence your employees. By helping careers, developing skills, and generally affect how your team views the company. Or you can use your new position to instil a fear-based culture.
Unfortunately, many people in leadership roles use scare tactics and manipulation. Many a manager only has negative things to say that never help their employees. If people aren’t willing to readily come to you with their work, your leadership style might need an adjustment.
Be approachable, no matter the situation. Have honest conversations. Be consistent, so your team knows where you stand at all times. Lead by example. Be passionate about your work. Be fully present.
All of these activities will help you gain the trust and respect of your employees, and help you facilitate a positive influence on your team.
2. Recognise success
As a leader, it is easy to take praise for results or ideas that you present to others. If your CEO loves a proposal that didn’t actually come from you, make sure to give credit to the person who came up with it.
This in no way diminishes your skills or abilities. In fact, by showing what your team is capable of, you allow their skills to shine, and you demonstrate your ability to both cultivate and recognise good work.
Consistently recognising and appreciating the successes of each individual on your team inspires loyalty, motivates people to work hard, and creates a positive work environment.
3. Make hard decisions
Those in leadership roles are often responsible for making the hard decisions for your team. This can include things like cost-cutting measures or letting go of an employee who isn’t performing as they should.
It also means deciding the strategic direction a team will follow, and taking on the responsibility of that choice – whether it turns out to be successful or not. A good leader accepts responsibility for their decisions.
4. Acknowledge mistakes
Every leader is going to make mistakes. It is how those mistakes are handled that makes all the difference, and sets the tone for the team.
Great leaders know to acknowledge their mistakes straight away and then work to rectify them as quickly as possible. Doing anything less will cause you to lose your employees’ trust immediately. By admitting when they are wrong, good leaders create a culture of honesty and mutual respect.
When employees know they will be supported, it is easier for them to immediately admit to a problem. This is not to say that you shouldn’t take the time to provide feedback. Just that you should focus on fixing the issue at hand first, and consequences second.
5. Focus and listen
When you are having a conversation with an employee, you owe them your full concentration. Avoid distractions. Don’t check your email or social media accounts.
You may think you do this already. However, ask yourself “When my team comes to me, do I turn away from my computer and phone? Or do I simply try to split my focus between the person in my office and various screens?” If you do the second, you are not truly listening.
Leaders listen carefully, then ask appropriate and relevant questions. Their focus is on recognising areas where improvements may be made, and issues that need to be solved. They think about the problem, as well as strategically about how it may affect their team in the future.
Leaders need to listen to their team as it helps them identify issues and be proactive. This way, small problems don’t turn into crippling ones.
6. Delegate where you can
If you are hiring the best, you should be delegating work to them. A good leader gives an employee both their trust and the freedom to get the task completed by relying on their own judgement.
If you do this, you will end up freeing up your time to focus on higher business objectives and more importantly empowering your team.
Your team has a myriad of secondary skills. To not maximise their potential is to let these skills go to waste. A good leader leverages all of their teams’ knowledge for everyone’s benefit.
7. Strategic hiring process
Real leaders recognise the different strengths of each member of their team. They also will identify any knowledge gaps, proactively, and have a hiring process in place to fill them.
Nurture your relationship with the HR team, so they are aware of any skills gaps you are experiencing. That way, when you do need to make a hire, they know what to look for.
The same goes for working with an agency. Being pro-active and communicating the needs of your team allows a recruitment agency to build a pool of the talent you need, ready to go when you need it.
Keep your focus on continually learning and refining your leadership traits. Doing so will turn you into the leader you have always looked up to. What kind of leader you end up becoming will depend on you.
Stan Lee might have put it best when he wrote, “With great power there comes great responsibility”.