No one wakes up thinking, “I want to be a bad leader. I want to be the boss that everyone hates who walks around demanding the TPS reports and squashing time off requests.”
If that’s the case, though, why are there so many ineffective leaders out there?
It might be because they haven’t learned how to communicate effectively. It might be because they’re having a hard time at home and it’s bleeding over into the workplace. It might be because they’re so focused on getting promoted and getting a specific title that they’re unable to create the relationships they need to boost their success.
To be an effective, loyalty-creating leader, that’s something different altogether. Effective leaders can look very different from one another, but most of them have a few key things in common.
1. Effective Leaders Lead Themselves.
To be a great leader, you need to be able to lead and manage yourself first. That means:
- Knowing your own communication style.
- Being aware of your strengths and weaknesses.
- Taking ownership of your personal development.
An effective leader puts in the work to understand themselves and what makes them tick, so they can then be their best self with their teams and bring out their teams’ most exceptional work.
To be an effective leader, developing emotional intelligence is extremely important. Emotional intelligence includes being self-aware, being aware of the feelings and emotions of those around you, and communicating effectively and collaboratively to build relationships.
You’re not just born with emotional intelligence; it can require hard work to develop it and put it into play in the workplace. However, you can learn to use your emotional intelligence to build relationships and to position yourself as a leader people love to follow and support.
2. Effective Leaders Set Expectations.
Effective leaders don’t leave their teams guessing about what they want. They’ll share specifics.
That doesn’t mean micromanaging or creating a multitude of small tasks. Instead, it means giving your colleagues an understanding of the type of leader you are and the way you like to handle communication.
For example, do you want a weekly update on projects or do you just want to know when they’re finished? Do you want your team members to ask you questions when they’re stuck or try to figure things out on their own?
I worked with a woman who put together a list for her employees when she took on a management role of things that they should know about her – from the very serious, like “I need to know if a deadline is going to be missed. I’ll be more frustrated if it’s missed than if it’s pushed back, but I need to know ahead of time” to the less critical like “I send a lot of instant messages. I don’t need an answer right away, but I like to just get the questions out of my brain before I forget!”
Her teams were able to understand why she communicated the way that she did, and she was able to avoid misunderstandings and frustrations when connecting. Creating those expectations upfront meant less time spent on miscommunications and hurt feelings and more time spent on working together to achieve optimal success as a team.
3. Effective Leaders Lead, Whether They’re “In Charge” or Not.
- Some people call it charisma or extroversion, but that’s not necessarily what draws people to love and support a leader. You don’t have to have these specific traits, a certain title or specific place in the corporate hierarchy to lead effectively.
There are plenty of leaders out there who don’t have a management title at all but who are people that are respected within their teams and organizations. They’ve committed themselves to building influence, whether they’re in an official authority role or not.
How do you build influence without the title, though? You can’t just stand up and wave a flag and say, “Follow me!” Instead, influence is built through a series of small steps.
To be someone that others trust, you need to display knowledge, to show that you have a level of insight and expertise. No one wants to listen to someone who may steer them wrong out of sheer ignorance. However, if you build trust by having the information that is needed in the right place at the right time, you’ll be able to start increasing your level of influence in a subtle, but beneficial fashion.
The people others respect are the people who get things done. When you show you can achieve goals and knock challenges out of the park, more people want to be on your team and want to be your advocate.
Influence comes when people like and trust you. You can start to create those connections by cultivating relationships within your organization and community. Those connections can start professionally, by working on a project or a team together, or casually, with a water cooler chat, a friendly lunch or a mentoring partnership. The thing they have in common is that you’re showing vulnerability to create a relationship, being willing to connect and grow together.
4. Effective Leaders Build Culture.
Leadership isn’t about one-offs or about making lists of must-dos. The most effective leaders create a culture that bakes their vision and expectations into everything they do.
For example, if a company has a culture of timeliness and a manager is known for starting meetings 10 minutes late, there’s some cognitive dissonance happening there for the employees. The same goes for companies that give lip service to their employees being top priority, then fail to listen to employee needs.
Culture isn’t something that just happens or that you have no control over. Cultures are created by leaders. While different areas of an organization may have a “culture within a culture,” they all connect back to the overarching themes and attitudes of leadership. That’s why, according to the Harvard Business Review, building a culture that highlights your values is one of the best tools at your disposal as a leader when you’re striving to create an organization that’s viable over time.
When you create a culture, you give employees a framework within which they can create value. They’re no longer second-guessing whether something is the right thing to do or not. Instead, they know where they can jump in and make a difference.
Getting an organization on the same page about culture isn’t always easy.
Too many companies try to do it by getting a handful of C-suite leaders into a room and coming up with some bullet points that they hang up around the building. A better way to strengthen or realign a corporate culture is to build leadership teams that can share a language and be on the same page with each other about how their organization works.
Effective leadership makes sense, from both a personal and a business level. Companies who can find and retain effective leaders will see greater success, and individuals who commit to developing their leadership potential will see new opportunities open up to them as their development is recognized in the workplace.
Are you ready to grow and develop as an effective leader? Take control of your leadership path by investing in your professional development.