In my new book, Leading Yourself and Leading Others — Candid Conversations that Improve Performance, I discuss 169 characteristics practiced by effective leaders, and I’m certain I didn’t cover all there is to discuss on this important topic.
Effective leadership is essential for success in the workplace. Bad leaders produce bad results. Outstanding leaders create outstanding success.
One important consideration is to remember that leaders need followers. To build a following, leaders must first understand self-leadership skills. Then, they can transfer those skills to strategies needed to lead others.
Some strategies to build that following include:
Be a more visible leader: Effective leaders don’t live in a cocoon. They wander throughout the workplace to get a first-hand view of what’s happening. Ignorance of facts is not a sound excuse when things go wrong. Be visible. Be aware. Be observant. Visible leaders understand this.
React to issues and concerns raised: You will not solve every problem. But a lack of action is deadly. Employees expect their leader to help remediate issues of concern. Procrastination is the enemy. Complacency is the enemy’s friend. Rid yourself of both by taking action and helping to resolve concerns. Even if you don’t completely resolve the issue, people appreciate your efforts. It's also a credibility grower.
Take charge: Failing to take charge translates into a leadership weakness. Decisiveness and responsiveness attack situations that need resolution. It’s your job to be in front, not shoring up the rear. Action is the creator of steps aimed at removing obstacles or improving a situation.
Complete your responsibilities: If you have an assignment, get it done. Again, procrastination is the enemy. Timely responses are credibility builders. Leaders hold their employees responsible to get their assigned work done. The same responsibility applies to the leader.
Be proactive: Anticipate what might go wrong. Understand what needs completion that is not yet part of your activity list. This blends with being a visible leader. Don’t anchor your feet with blindness to future needs. Be proactive and get things done before anyone says it needs attention. Stay busy working on your assigned tasks. Idleness accomplishes nothing.
Be a team player: There is strength in numbers. Such a work environment is a place that numbers become an advantage. Use the strengths of your employees and peers. Together you are better able to revolve and remove barriers to progress. A quarterback needs a receiver to catch his pass. A leader needs someone to help them reach the goal line of success.
Don’t keep people in the dark: There are things you cannot share with employees. But, this is the exception rather than the norm. The more information you can give employees, the better they can assist you. Being secretive and protective of what you know doesn’t serve you well. Be open. Be willing to share your knowledge. Be the resource of information important to employees. Be comfortable sharing.
Be considerate of the time of others: Have a meeting at 9 a.m.? Get there five minutes early. Lateness is for losers. Punctuality is for professionals. When you value the time of others, they will reciprocate. When you don’t value their time, their value assessment of you drops.
People are watching: You are always on display. Employees watch beyond your words. Consistency between words and actions is the winning strategy. Inconsistency is a path to a failing strategy.
Be easy to work with: Cooperation is a sign of caring for others. Uncooperative behavior is a sign of being uncaring. Why present obstacles to others? Be comfortable with collaboration. Become supportive and serve. These make you a superhero that comes to the rescue when others need help.
Provide solutions, not problems: Your boss wants your help. Don’t go to him or her with your problems. Attempt resolution of issues before approaching your boss. Independence is a good trait in this situation. Likewise, be a resource to help resolve problems that your boss might face. Volunteer to support them. Then, you become a resource. And that is a career building strategy.
Work to install, adapt and use these leadership strategies. It’s in your best interest to grow skills and knowledge. It’s in your best interest to become an effective leader.
Here are the three things innovative leaders are doing differently to empower their teams and build trust among their colleagues.
1. They acknowledge unspoken dynamics
When issues go unspoken, they also go unaddressed, which is certainly true with unhealthy or unnecessary power dynamics. Daring leaders are those who consciously choose to see and discuss openly the undercurrent of power in their organization.
This new breed of leaders are doing their own internal work to explore their beliefs and baggage around power (whether it’s a good or bad thing); they bring a greater awareness of where power is playing a part in the logistical or cultural norms of the company, and especially within their own teams.
To do this, the first step is to observe how power is present around you. Ultimately you have to acknowledge the role you play in perpetuating the current structure. Do you like to or need to feel superior? Most people will instinctively answer no, but with deeper soul-searching realize that isn’t entirely true.
A desire to be special is normal. What’s important is to acknowledge it to yourself so you can take notice of hidden motivations that may be driving some of your leadership behaviors and the use (or misuse) of power in your organization. With this heightened awareness, you will be ready and able to make changes within your team and influence the work culture when necessary.
2. They let their actions set the tone
Human beings crave power because of our intrinsic need for respect, which power often brings with it. And while almost all companies would tell you that they respect their employees equally, regardless of status or level, the actions of their leaders may paint a different story.
As you build your awareness of workplace power dynamics, monitor how and when you show respect to people with more power. How fast do you answer the emails of senior executives versus your direct reports? Would you walk by the CEO in the hallway without speaking? Would you show up late to their meeting, and check your email or step out to take a call while they are speaking or would you wait until someone less important is talking?
Your actions, even if unconsciously motivated, send subtle messages about power to the people around you. If you want an organization where power is shared, you have to show the same level of respect to everyone you interact with. This is hard to do because as a leader you are busy and prioritizing your time seems to call for prioritizing the importance of people. But when you avoid this pitfall, you create a much stronger culture of respect and engagement.
3. They disrupt common practices
Power unbalances are most noticeable throughout the hiring process. During interviews it is clear that one person has something (a job) that the other wants, so almost all the power resides on one side. But a company that truly prioritizes people knows that top talent will also be assessing their organizational values; how the company handles their position of hiring power says a lot about the culture.
For this reason, Lauryn Sargent, cofounder and partner at the culture communications company, Stories Inc., works to share power with candidates that apply to join her team. She’s made small tweaks throughout the hiring process that help a candidate assess her just as much as they are being evaluated. She schedules ample time for candidates to grill her with questions instead of leaving it for the time left over at the end of the interview. She is also famous for providing candidates with references of people that have worked for her so they can equally dig into her background and judge the fit.
Lauryn shares candidly that she has second-guessed herself at times about giving so much of her power away in the hiring process. She recognizes that her tactics embed time and risk into landing the candidate she wants most. But she continues to deal with the vulnerability of this process because she knows that building a unique culture requires that you do things differently.
As you assess the practices in your organization, be that hiring, performance management or simple meeting etiquette, look for ways to shift your power to those that may need it. As you do this, you will likely find that a team with distributed power is ultimately stronger.