What makes a great leader? Is it the ability to strike a balance between warmth and authority? The ability to guide a team toward a goal? It may be something much more nuanced, perhaps the gift of being respected, liked, and listened to, no matter what ends these things might serve.
The definition of “leadership” differs for everyone, and your definition likely tells the world something about the type of leader you are (or that you aspire to be). McKinsey & Co. defines leadership as the act of “guiding and impacting outcomes, enabling groups of people to work together to accomplish what they couldn’t do working individually.” McKinsey notes that “leadership is something you do, not something you are.”
Drawing upon my long tenure as an HR consultant, I tend to agree. I’ve seen many displays of good (and some not-so-good) leadership, and I’ve seen countless individuals learn to embody the great leadership qualities that already existed inside of them.
I can confidently say that leadership is a skill, which meansthat it can be learned. With that in mind, I’ll share how to improve leadership skills, including four of the simplest things that we can all draw upon.
Tune into Your Self-Awareness
Want to improve your leadership skills? It starts with understanding yourself. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but the concept of first understanding yourself in order to understand and motivate others is all about grasping the essence of your relationships with those around you.
Once you get your arms around this, you can begin to steer interactions in the direction you want them to go. Begin to build self-awareness by analyzing the following:
What are your strengths? Your weaknesses?
How do your normal tone and mannerisms come across to others?
What feedback have you received in the past, and have you acted upon it?
What are your motivations? Your values? Are they apparent to others?
What makes you upset? What makes you lose your patience? Why?
If you’ve been promoted to a position of leadership, you probably have a pretty high IQ—but how high is your EQ? A manager might be a genius in their field, and yet have no idea how to get everyone on their team on the same page.
A healthy EQ (emotional quotient) will help you multiply your great results, ideas, and practices across your entire team. Developing your emotional intelligence as a manager starts with the following:
Learning effective coping mechanisms for relieving work-related stress, such as tracking your stressors and triggers, taking small breaks to relax and recharge, and giving yourself enough time to develop a polite response;
Empathizing with others on your team by considering how their unique experiences may affect their work product, schedules, and point of view; and
Managing intergroup conflict by refraining from taking sides, understanding each party’s opinions before making a decision, and using neutrality to diffuse conflicts, even it means involving an unbiased third party.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Your ability to communicate with your team directly drives your skills as a leader. A great leader is able to gain the trust of their team, spark engagement, and deliver group results—all by getting their point across the right way and at the right intervals.
Communicating goes beyond just speaking early and often. Here are some lesser-known tactics that you likely already put to use outside of work. Consider how you can implement the following as a manager:
Apologize when you’ve made a mistake
If you lost your cool on an employee, blamed them for something they didn’t do, or created extra work for no reason, take comfort in the fact that you’re not the first manager to make a mistake. Mistakes happen to all humans, but as a manager, you probably hold yourself to much higher standards—and for good reason.
Apologizing to the affected employee isn’t above you, however, and this humble form of honest communication can do wonders to mend a relationship. Setting up one-on-one time to acknowledge the mistake and thank the employee for their grace will gain you respect and appreciation as a leader in the long run.
Communicating your boundaries as a leader is the perfect way to set the working tone for the group. Examples of healthy boundaries for leaders to set include: letting employees know they need to ask before adding a meeting to your calendar; setting away messages or statuses when you’re focused on an important task; and lumping smaller responses into a pre-set time block (i.e., declining to answer every minor email immediately).
If you set firm boundaries and observe them, you’ll create respect for your time amongst your team members, and they’ll know exactly what to expect from you.
Say "thank you" publicly
Nothing says “keep doing exactly what you’re doing” quite like communicating an enthusiastic and genuine “great job.” When you praise your employees publicly, you create a positive image surrounding who they are—not just in the eyes of the praised employee themselves, but in the eyes of the entire team.
Because of your praise, they’ll want to live up to their good reputation and keep up the good work.
Employees respect and will work hard for a leader who appreciates their ideas. Encouraging the creativity that lives in others will not only bring great ideas to light within your team, it will show your team members that you believe in them, value their input, and see them as smart, competent contributors to the company. Here are some ways you can encourage creativity within your team:
Give them independence
When assigning tasks that you know your employees can handle on their own, don’t be afraid to let them know they can take the reins. (It’s okay if you’re still there to correct things after.) Emphasizing that you trust an employee’s judgment and discretion will do wonders to get their creativity flowing.
Encourage them to work together
Depending on how many people you manage, you might have some very different personalities and skill sets at play. Allow them to work together at times, perhaps without your direct supervision.
Employees interact differently when their boss isn’t around, and they may be more honest and direct with each other. In this vein, encourage collaboration, and you’ll see what kind of work product is produced when employees work as a real team with no one person above another.
Axcet HR Solutions: Your Leadership Development Partner
As an experienced professional employer organization, Axcet HR Solutions is proud to serve small businesses and startups focused on growing and scaling their core business. Whether you’re looking to develop the managerial qualities of your employees, or strengthen your own leadership skills, Axcet is here to help. Our customized executive leadership training results in better worker performance, protection against legal claims, and an improved company reputation.
Leadership training and development is just the beginning of what we offer at Axcet. To find out how we can help your small business, reach out to our experts today.