In the world of business, effective leaders are critical for harnessing the power of those around them. There are so many pitfalls that leaders need to avoid — trying to be an effective leader can be a daunting task. Critical employees can chip away at self-confidence, while margins for error can be nonexistent.
Huge corporations require leadership that synchronizes thousands of individuals’ efforts into one common goal, while startups require leadership that inspires employees to value what their leader values.
Justin Bariso, founder of consultancy company Insight, defines leadership as, “A process of social influence that works to increase the efforts of others in pursuit of a common goal.” These processes can be vastly different, ranging from the extremely effective to the disastrous.
Leadership is a skill you’ll continue to learn and develop throughout your lifetime. To help you navigate, here’s a mini-guide to effective leadership in the workplace.
Assess Your Own Abilities
Before you can be an effective leader, you must take a critical inventory of your strengths, weaknesses, and personality. People can easily spot a leader who is unaware of his or her own presence in the workplace. In order to gain their full respect and cooperation, you must engage with them completely by learning the most effective ways to connect.
The first and most important part of assessing your own abilities is determining your emotional intelligence. The Mind Tools Editorial Team defines emotional intelligence as, “The ability to recognize your emotions, understand what they're telling you, and realize how they affect the people around you. Emotional intelligence also involves your perception of others: When you understand how they feel, it allows you to manage relationships more effectively.”
Essentially, emotional intelligence can be boiled down to the people skills you use and how in-tune with those skills — and yourself — you are.
Coined by psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey, and made popular in Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ — emotional intelligence has five components: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. Each facet contributes to a well-rounded leader and enables him or her to excel in the workplace. Here are the qualities of each:
According to Harvard Business Review contributor Anthony K. Tjan, “There is one quality that trumps all, evident in virtually every great entrepreneur, manager, and leader. That quality is self-awareness. The best thing leaders can do to improve their effectiveness is to become more aware of what motivates them and their decision-making.”
Self-awareness affects every aspect of a leader’s life, from social interactions and decision-making to self-discipline and integrity. Seeing yourself as you truly are — your strengths and weaknesses — is essential to effective leadership.
Highlighting its importance, Goleman states, “Emotional self-awareness is a leadership competency that shows up in model after model. These are the leaders attuned to their inner signals, recognizing how their feelings affect them and their job performance.”
A self-aware leader also uses his or her moral compass to make decisions. “[Self-aware leaders] integrate their guiding values into their work. They can deduce the best course of action. They see the big picture and they’re genuine.” Self-awareness gives leaders the vision to lead and the discretion to know their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to work well with all members of their team.
Self-regulation is the ability to manage emotions in a tumultuous environment and the quality of emotional intelligence that, in Goleman’s words, "Liberates us from living like hostages to our impulses.” Leaders who show self-regulation, have three qualities: 1. They have an “inclination toward reflection and thoughtfulness;” 2. They have accepted uncertainty and change; and 3. They possess integrity and the ability to resist their impulses.
Self-regulation is critical in keeping a positive outlook on life. According to the Mind Tools Editorial Team, “Self-regulated people can calm themselves down when they're angry or upset, and cheer themselves up when they're down. They are also flexible, and adapt their styles to work with their colleagues (no matter who they are), and take charge of situations when necessary.” Self-regulation allows a leader to act independently, without needing someone else to pull them out of a slump or give them direction in their goals.
The Mind Tools Editorial Team suggests 8 steps for attaining self-regulation:
- Lead with integrity — By identifying your values and sticking to them. Refusing to compromise your values and treating everyone fairly will go a long way toward gaining respect. Similarly, self-regulated people don’t change their opinions or act hypocritically.
- Be open to change — It’s important for leaders to view change in a positive light, seeing it as an “exciting opportunity for self-development.” Those who cope with change well also experience less stress.
- Identify your triggers — Self-regulation and self-awareness go hand-in-hand. Knowing what makes you lose your self-control is evidence of this. The Mind Tools Editorial Team suggests listing all the times when you’ve caved to your negative impulses and working to exchange those negative behaviors for positive ones.
- Practice self-discipline — Since much of self-regulation is reigning in your emotions, having the discipline to do things when you don’t feel like doing them is crucial to success. Self-discipline is one of the key determining factors in accomplishing long-term goals, according to Thomas Bateman and Bruce Barry’s study in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.
- Change negative thoughts into positive thoughts — “Consider using affirmations and visualizations to manage your negative thoughts and control how you react to similar situations in the future,” says the Mind Tools Editorial Team. “By rationally assessing the facts, you can undo the damage that negative thinking may have done.” Positive self-talk will reprogram your thinking to achieve your desired attitude, which in turn will produce desired results.
- Keep calm under pressure — This is easier said than done, but practicing useful relaxation techniques often will create a habit that will kick in when you need it.
- Visualize consequences — Thinking through your choices before you make them is an essential quality in self-regulation and in being an effective leader.
- Believe in yourself — As defined by Positivepsychology.org, self-efficacy is the “optimistic self-belief in our competence or chances of successfully accomplishing a task and producing a favorable outcome.” It is critical to success. Failure begins in the mind. Refusing to fail mentally will allow you to succeed in reality.
Being an effective leader means being able to motivate people. Since many employees only do what they’re told because the alternative is worse, truly motivating your subordinates can be a challenge.
Jeremy Marchant, writer for Emotional Intelligence at Work, submits the idea that it’s impossible to motivate anyone to do anything. “People motivate themselves,” he says. “However, a successful leader will be able to do something, or be something, which, when it is experienced by the other person, enables them to motivate themselves.”
The key aspect in motivating others is to make them more important than you. According to Marchant, this is the best way to empower people because it promotes an attitude of service.
Being an empathetic leader is an extremely valuable quality, since it adds to your emotional intelligence and makes fostering genuine and meaningful relationships much easier.
According to the Mind Tools Editorial Team, “Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around you. People with empathy are good at recognizing the feelings of others, even when those feelings may not be obvious.” Having empathy is a key component in being an effective communicator.
When a leader lacks empathy, he or she lacks the social graces needed to navigate troubled waters in the workplace. A strong leader must know what to say and do in any situation that may arise. This can be difficult to do without feeling empathetic towards others. Being empathetic doesn’t mean that you can’t be the calm leader in a crisis — instead, it means that you’ll be a human leader in a crisis, rather than a cold detached robot.
5. Social Skill
Having the social skill to be an effective leader has nothing to do with popularity or being silver-tongued. Instead, as Goleman says, social skill includes having the ability to “tune into another person’s feelings and understand how they think about things,” in order to be an effective collaborator, team player, and negotiator. It requires active listening and constant communication.
“Socially savvy, engaged leaders share a set of skills that help protect their organizations from the havoc of sudden, devastating change,” says Meghan M. Biro, founder of talentculture.com. When leaders lack social skill, the workplace tends to fall apart. It’s essential for leaders to interact with everyone and engage in productive conversations about work-related matters.
“How can you expect your organization to be cohesive internally or build a coherent brand externally, unless everyone shows up to ‘represent’?” says Biro. “You don’t need to tweet or send email round-the-clock, but you must be comfortable connecting in person and on social channels.” This makes the leader more socially aware of what is going on within the company, which is invaluable.
Why Emotional Intelligence is Relevant
Emotional intelligence, while a relatively new concept in the business world, has had a huge impact on the way businesses think about the workforce.
According to Entrepreneur contributor Mariah Deleon, “Workers with high emotional quotient are better able to work in teams, adjust to change, and be flexible. No matter how many degrees or other on-paper qualifications a person has, if he or she doesn’t have certain emotional qualities, he or she is unlikely to succeed. As the workplace continues to evolve, making room for new technologies and innovations, these qualities may become increasingly important.”
John Mayer and Peter Salovey's work with emotional intelligence has transformed the way leadership is measured. Learning how you measure up will help you become a more effective leader.
Emotional intelligence is a fairly thorough measurement to use to find how effective a leader you can be, but there are a few other considerations as well.
The greatest leaders are the ones with honesty and integrity. A team cannot function at its best if there is no trust.
“In leadership, honesty is an important virtue, as leaders serve as role models for their subordinates,” says boundless.com. Leadership lacking in integrity breeds duplicity in the workplace, which leads to ineffective communication, low morale, and low productivity.
Honesty lends credibility to the person who has it. If a leader lacks credibility, it will be difficult to guide and manage a team. Employees respect an honest leader, and respect will carry a person a long way — without it, a leader cannot lead.
“Leadership experts Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner find honesty to be the most important trait of effective leaders,” says boundless.com. “In its absence, leaders lack credibility and their ability to influence others is diminished.”
In effect, honesty, being a part of integrity, is the most important trait a leader can possess.
A great leader is a confident leader. No one will freely choose to follow someone who is unsure of themselves and every decision they make. When a leader lacks confidence, it tells others that the leader doesn’t know what is going on or that he or she is incompetent. It’s demoralizing for workers when they have no confidence or faith in leadership, which leads to the destruction of productivity in the workplace.
After taking a calculated look at your own strengths and weaknesses, also consider that there are many different leadership styles. Effective leaders with a high amount of emotional intelligence, honesty, and confidence will still find several different pathways to leadership success.
Robyn Benincasa, writer for Fast Company, outlines six different, effective leadership styles you might gravitate towards.
1. Pacesetting Leader
“The pacesetting leader leads from the front,” says Benincasa. “Rather than mothering employees, the pacesetting leader expects employees to keep up and go above and beyond. The pacesetting style works best when the team is already motivated and skilled, and the leader needs quick results. Used extensively; however, this style can overwhelm team members and squelch innovation.”
There's a time and a place for this type of leadership. The pro is productivity, but the cons are extremely high and sometimes unrealistic expectations.
A great example of a pacesetting leader is the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple. He had the drive and energy necessary to make Apple what it is today, demanding excellence from his employees because he exuded excellence.
2. Authoritative Leader
An authoritative leader has a keen ability to focus his or her team while lending them the freedom to achieve the ends by their own means.
Benincasa says, “The authoritative style works best when the team needs a new vision because circumstances have changed, or when explicit guidance is not required. Authoritative leaders inspire an entrepreneurial spirit and vibrant enthusiasm for the mission. It is not the best fit when the leader is working with a team of experts who know more than him or her.”
Authoritative leaders inspire by casting the mission in terms of a vision to be achieved. They are hands-off, giving more inspiration than guidance.
A great example of an authoritative leader is Virgin’s CEO Richard Branson. A rock-star persona and an unquenchable spirit for adventure and entrepreneurship have been his defining style.
3. Affiliative Leader
Affiliative leaders above all create a sense of community. “The affiliative style works best in times of stress when teammates need to heal from a trauma, or when the team needs to rebuild trust,” says Benincasa. “This style should not be used exclusively, because a sole reliance on praise and nurturing can foster mediocre performance and a lack of direction.”
Every team needs positive reinforcement now and then, and affiliative leaders excel at this.
A great example of this style is embodied in New York Yankees manager Joe Torre. During their 1999 championship season, Torre e offered his players the emotional support needed to guide the team through a troublesome year of stressful games and team personnel issues.
4. Coaching Leader
The coaching leader fosters a future powerhouse team. According to Benincasa, “The coaching style works best when the leader wants to help teammates build lasting personal strengths that make them more successful overall. It is least effective when teammates are defiant and unwilling to change or learn, or if the leader lacks proficiency.”
The coaching leader is a transformative leader, bringing out the best in team players who can’t see their full potential.
Great examples of this style can be seen in its namesake: athletic coaches. Athletic coaches show athletes their full potential, pushing them to heights they could not realize by themselves.
5. Coercive Leader
The coercive leader has one way of doing things, and all employees must follow this way or get out. Benincasa states, “The coercive style is most effective in times of crisis, such as in a company turnaround or a takeover attempt, or during an actual emergency like a tornado or a fire. This style can also help control a problem teammate when everything else has failed. However, it should be avoided in almost every other case because it can alienate people and stifle flexibility and inventiveness.”
Coercive leaders are people of action who demand that others follow exact instructions.
Great examples of this style can be seen in great military leaders such as Napoleon Bonaparte and George Patton. Their quick decision-making skills were crucial to their success on and off the battlefield.
6. Democratic Leader
“The democratic leader gets everyone involved and in agreement,” Benincasa says. “The democratic style is most effective when the leader needs the team to buy into or have ownership of a decision, plan, or goal, or if he or she is uncertain and needs fresh ideas from qualified teammates. It is not the best choice in an emergency situation, when time is of the essence for another reason, or when teammates are not informed enough to offer sufficient guidance to the leader.”
Big decisions are often met with success from this style of leadership, since the leader has garnered a great deal of support and input from subordinates.
A great example of this style is John F. Kennedy. His style was laissez-faire, letting experts in their respective fields offer quality input and run their own spheres of influence.
More Factors for Success
Emotional intelligence has five different components and there are six different types of leaders. Between them, the type of leader you are can be a very specific plot on a vast plane. Keep in mind that no one style is inherently better than the other.
Now that you’ve identified your own qualities and determined which style of leadership fits you best, consider the following skills and qualities, and adapt them into your repertoire.
Practicing Effective Communication
A leader can’t lead others to success if he or she cannot communicate effectively and clearly. “Effective communication is an essential component of professional success whether it is at the interpersonal, intergroup, intragroup, organizational, or external level,” says Forbes contributing writer Mike Myatt.
There is a difference between speaking and communicating. If the message is not heard, then communication has failed.
Great communicators understand that in order to get the message across, you must know how to reach your audience. Many business meetings have fallen on deaf ears because the speaker did not know how to connect with the audience.
Begin with building trust with your peers and subordinates. “When people have the sense that a leader is worthy of their trust, they will invest time and take risks in ways they never would if their leader had a reputation built upon poor character or lack of integrity,” says Myatt. If your audience has no reason to believe you, they won’t bother to listen to you.
Engage your audience in a personal manner. Get emotional about what you’re speaking about. Emotion invites people to listen and creates strong feelings toward the subject matter. If a speaker is droning on with distanced disinterest, the audience will pick up on that and have no interest themselves.
Good leaders know how to convey important information to their subordinates. Good leaders have open channels of communication and foster sincere relationships with those that they work with in order to maintain effective communication.
Being humble means being open to feedback and openly listening to others’ views and opinions. A humble leader is a good leader. According to the Harvard Business Review, showing humility is "one of four critical leadership factors for creating an environment where employees from different demographic backgrounds feel included.”
Humble leaders don’t shy away from their mistakes, but rather use them as tools for teachable lessons. They don’t talk down to or act condescendingly toward others. Instead, they openly converse with their subordinates. In doing this, the leader shows that it’s okay to be human, and that they are relatable.
According to Inc.com contributing writer Jessica Stillman, “One study of Fortune 1000 executives found that one important factor that lifted leaders from 'good to great' was modesty.’”
Great leaders know when to give others the chance to lead and step up to the plate and are never too prideful to let their fellow employees’ skills shine. Humbleness in leadership creates a more close-knit team environment and encourages others to branch out of their comfort zones, which is important to the success of a group that works together.
Leading by Example
Leading by example is arguably one of the most important things a strong leader can do. A leader that does what he or she asks of others, is a leader that holds respect in the eyes of their peers and subordinates. When a leader does the opposite of what is being asked of others, it creates dissension in the workplace and productivity plummets.
“Good leadership takes strength of character and a firm commitment to do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason,” says Mindtools.com contributing writer Bruna Martinuzzi. “This means doing what you say when you say it. If your team can't trust you, you'll probably never lead them to greatness.”
A great leader naturally has the work ethic that is expected of others and won’t lower his or her standards. Leaders that are lazy, or don’t exceed expectations, usually don’t stick around for very long. If the team is failing, the leader is failing.
It is essential for you to be productive. There is no such thing as a great unproductive leader — the two terms are contradictory. Productive leaders do many things, but most importantly they are focused. A productive leader is aware of what problems need to be solved and has a plan in place for how to solve them.
“If you keep the problem front and center, you exponentially increase your effectiveness,” says J.D. Meier, author of Getting Results the Agile Way. “It helps you prioritize. It helps you focus. It helps you bring in the right help. It helps you ask the right questions.”
Strong leaders know that their time is priceless and that in order to achieve the best results, they must fully maximize their productivity.
Productivity is intentional and structured. In order to maximize productivity, leaders delegate in order to avoid burnout. They also know that employees should be directing most of their time and energy toward their strengths. Natural passion and talent will always achieve better results than a struggling, disinterested worker.
"Know your purpose and what the desired outcome is,” says Meier. “By keeping these two things in mind, you will avoid wasting time on menial tasks that won’t make an impact on the bottom line. Share your ‘why’ with others. It’s contagious. The most unproductive teams I know have no purpose. They have no juice. They have no joy. They do work, and every bit of work is a chore.”
Knowing and sharing your why with others is an effective and powerful way to stay productive.
Keeping Employees Focused
Keeping employees focused can be a challenge, especially during difficult times, and strong leaders know just how to do it. People lose focus when they stop caring and emotionally check out. It’s not enough for employees to show up on time every day — if they are not emotionally invested in their work, then they are not serving a purpose.
“The secret of getting people more engaged in their work is for their leaders to become more engaged with them,” says Forbes contributor Lisa McLeod. “That means being willing to show up emotionally as well as intellectually.”
Take the time to acknowledge people in a personal way. Consider adding a personal approach: “I really appreciate you (insert name) and the way you brighten up the place with your good attitude.” This is something meaningful that you can say that won’t sound like the typical workplace edict.
Employees are not machines that can function without human interaction. Engaging emotionally fills every human’s innate desire for connection. “Meaningful connections provide people with the internal fortitude they need to stay productive during tough times,” says McLeod. Good leaders have the emotional intelligence to provide this for their people.
Relying on the Experts in Your Team
No one is an expert on everything, and every great leader knows this. “Recognize and know your limitations,” says decision-making-solutions.com. “Having experts work for you frees you to spend your time where you can best add value. Allowing the professional to make the decisions where they have the knowledge leads to greater productivity. Shared decision making enables you to get what you paid for — better results at a lower overall cost.”
Good leaders know their weaknesses and seek the help of experts to counterbalance them.
Relying on experts doesn’t mean you pass responsibility onto somebody else, it means you know your limits and are willing to seek guidance. Decisions and outcomes will always be the leader's responsibility, no matter what qualified person may have advised them. Strong leaders are informed, ask questions, and take responsibility.
Delegating When Needed
In order for a leader to be successful, it is vital to know what and when to delegate. “Delegation is assigning responsibility and authority to someone in order to complete a clearly defined and agreed upon task while you retain ultimate responsibility for its success,” says ncsu.edu. "Delegation incorporates empowering your teammates through effective leadership, and may be directed in any direction and used in any organization.”
By delegating, you ensure that everything will operate smoothly and efficiently.
Efficiency is created when a task is delegated to someone with the relevant skills for the job. When everyone on a team is assigned a task that is well-suited to their skills, they operate more effectively as a whole, allowing leadership to focus on the bigger picture and what the next move for the team will be.
It may be tempting for those who like to control everything to continue to micromanage their team and responsibilities, but a strong leader knows that the key to succeeding at the job is allowing others to manage the little things. Proper delegation also helps to relieve pressure and stress on the leadership position, which is an invaluable benefit for such a taxing job.
Giving Positive Feedback
Giving positive feedback is one of the most important things an effective leader can do. Providing positive feedback is an excellent tool for coaching and motivating others. Take the time to let someone know that they are doing a good job. This not only shows that you care, but that you are paying attention to their performance and that you appreciate their hard work.
“Feedback can be a simple yet powerful motivational tool,” says bookboonglobal.com. “Just by praising people for what they have done, leaders can have a galvanizing effect. It’s strange that something so effective, yet simple, is so rarely or poorly done.”
You can give positive feedback in two easy steps. First, look for the actions you want to see from your employees. Then, after you identify those positive behaviors, when you see them being done, point them out and praise each individual for a job well done.
When leadership only provides critical or negative feedback (or no feedback at all), it only serves to lower the morale of the workplace and the employees. This is why it’s so important to provide feedback that praises desirable behaviors.
Got any other tips for being an effective leader? Take the lead and let us know about them in the comments below.
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