10 Ways to Become a Better Leader
Learn how to be a good leader to improve your team's engagement and success.
Learning how to be a good leader can greatly impact the success of your team, your organization and yourself.
To be an effective leader, you must understand your own motivations, strengths and weaknesses.
Great leaders connect with their team by facilitating open communication, encouraging employee growth and development, and giving and receiving feedback.
Anyone can sit in a corner office and delegate tasks, but there is more to effective leadership than that. Effective leaders have major impacts on not only the team members they manage, but also their company as a whole. Employees who work under great leaders tend to be happier, more productive and more connected to their organization – and this has a ripple effect that reaches your business’s bottom line. If you look around and see that your team members have become disengaged or stagnant in their work, it may be time to reassess and reform your strategies. According to Brownlee, the following behaviors are signs that you may have a poor leadership strategy:
No one on your team has criticized one of your ideas in the past month.
You spend more time planning your own career progression than that of your team members.
You haven’t had at least three completely non-work-related conversations with a team member weekly.
Different team members would provide different answers if asked your top three priorities for the year.
Team members are afraid to fail.
A recent study by the Center for Creative Leadership showed that roughly 38% to more than half of new leaders fail within their first 18 months. Leaders can avoid becoming part of this staggering statistic by incorporating good leadership strategies that motivate their team members to accomplish their goals.
We spoke with CEOs, directors and leadership experts to learn what those leadership strategies are and how you can incorporate them.
1. Engage in honest, open communication.
One of the most important elements of effective leadership is creating an open line of communication with your team members. Sanjay Patoliya, the founder and director of Teclogiq, said that your own honesty and transparency should serve as an example for your team members.
“When you are responsible for a team of people, it is important to be straightforward,” he said. “Your company and its employees are a reflection of yourself, and if you make honest and ethical behavior as a key value, your team will follow.”
Brownlee added that great leaders are able to customize their interactions and communication styles to suit each situation and team member, based on individual preferences. “This means they take the time to figure out which communication mode is preferred by each team member – e.g., are they a text person, email, phone, or face-to-face? They’re also great listeners and are authentically interested in other people.”
Displaying active communication skills and transparency can build trust among your team and improve overall morale. Ruslan Fazlyev, CEO and founder of e-commerce solutions provider Ecwid, said that in all your communications, it’s important to be genuine above all else.
“There are many leadership styles; there’s no right and wrong,” he said. “But there’s genuine, and there’s fake. There’s no following to fake leadership.”
Key takeaway: Maintaining honest and straightforward communication inspires your employees to reciprocate. Each team member may have a different communication style so it’s important to tailor your communication based on the individual.
2. Connect with your team members.
Leading a group of people requires a mutual sense of trust and understanding between the leader and their team members. To achieve this, leaders should learn to connect.
Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie, a leadership writer and consultant, said that being a “more human” leader requires positivity, purpose, empathy, compassion, humility and love. These key traits will put you on the road to genuine connections with the members of your team.
“Building a real, personal connection with your teammates is vital to developing the shared trust necessary to build a strong culture of accountability and exceptional performance,” St. Marie said. “With that culture in place, the team can achieve a successful business, a happy team and a fulfilled leader.”
To build a connection with each of your team members, focus on getting to know their personality, interests, strengths, weaknesses, hobbies and preferences. This can give you insight into their goals and motivations.
Patoliya said that successful leaders allow their teams to develop autonomy and add value according to their own personal strengths. “Being able to recognize the strengths of individuals within their team, and allowing them to be responsible and accountable, not only increases employees’ confidence in themselves and their leader, but also increases their performance.”
3. Encourage personal and professional growth.
Acting as your team’s cheerleader is an important part of being an effective leader. You should be invested in their success and growth.
Keri Ohlrich, the CEO of HR consulting company Abbracci Group, said that leaders should set aside a budget, if only a small one, to dedicate to the growth of their employees.
“With options as varied as on-demand, virtual [and] in-person options, there’s ample opportunity to continue learning new skills or further developing existing ones,” she said. “Empower your employees to take the time to learn and infuse that in the work they do.”
In addition to investing in your employees’ growth financially, you should invest emotionally. John Rampton, founder and CEO of Calendar, said that great leaders empower their employees to grow by giving them challenging opportunities and guiding them as needed.
“To motivate and inspire employees, leadership strategy is about empowering others to do their best and take on new challenges,” he said. “Employees like challenges and feeling the satisfaction of overcoming them. Whether it’s a tough client, a difficult sale, a hard situation or whatever the case, it’s always good to let them take on these challenges.”
When leaders believe in their employees and give them the opportunity to learn and grow, they might be surprised how much they can accomplish. Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks and encourage freedom and creativity.
4. Keep a positive attitude.
As much as leaders wish their team’s day-to-day operations could run smoothly all the time, they’re bound to run into the occasional obstacle. Whether it’s a minor miscommunication or a major error, the way you handle a negative situation says a lot about your leadership skills.
Robert Mann, author of The Measure of a Leader (iUniverse, 2013), recommended focusing on the good in any set of circumstances. “Look at three positive things about a problem before you identify what makes it dissatisfying. The more you look at the positives in a problem, the more positively people react with one another.”
5. Teach employees instead of giving orders.
An effective leader knows how to show others what is required, rather than simply telling them. Luke Iorio, president and CEO of the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC), said leaders should coach their team members toward a more collaborative, committed work environment – without coaxing them.
6. Set clear employee goals and expectations.
Setting clear goals and employee expectations for your team is key to employee success. When setting these objectives, encourage employee questions and feedback. Including them in the process can increase engagement.
Amish Shah, president of ALTR Created Diamonds, said that good leaders will also explain the company vision and how team member goals fit into that equation.
“For a leader to motivate and inspire, they need to keep their team in the know about their vision,” he said. “This helps employees understand the end result they’re working towards as a unit. When goals are clearly set, everyone can track progress and identify achievements in a tangible manner.”
Ohlrich also stressed the importance of explaining how these goals impact the organization as a whole. She said that, regardless of seniority level, every employee should be able to articulate how the work they do supports the success of the company.
Don’t let team member goals go static. Periodically revisit goals to modify or rearrange them as needed. This will let your team members know that you are present and aware of what they are working on.
Tip: When setting these objectives, encourage employee questions and feedback. Including them in the process can increase engagement.
7. Give direct feedback about performance.
Taso Du Val, CEO and founder of the Toptal freelance talent network, said direct, honest feedback – even if it’s criticism – is the best way to guide your team in the right direction. You also need to know exactly where your business is headed so you can give them the right advice.
“If you’re not direct, people won’t know what you truly think about them and their work, and they will never be able to improve,” Du Val said. “If you don’t know the precise direction your company is headed, no matter how much you’ve communicated to your employees and leadership team regarding their individual performance, they will flounder when it comes to making decisions and taking actions. Once those basic principles are in place, deadlines, regular product plans, performance reviews, structure and processes can easily be put into place.”
In addition to providing constructive feedback and performance reviews, highlight employee accomplishments. If a team member does something great, let them know. Celebrate their wins and thank them for their hard work.
“Positive recognition will create an environment of productivity,” said Shah. “Acknowledging successes by outlining how it impacts the business, rather than with vague pats on the back, is not only encouraging but also helps a person work better in the long run.”
8. Ask for feedback on your leadership.
Your team members aren’t the only ones who can benefit from honest feedback. A true self-assessment of your leadership can be difficult, so mentors, fellow professionals and even your own staff are invaluable in evaluating your effectiveness. According to St. Marie, talking to friends and peers can give you necessary perspective on your leadership style and approach.
Leadership coaching can also help you discover areas where you need improvement. A professional who helps you develop a plan to achieve your leadership goals can be more motivational than books and seminars alone.
9. Be open to new ideas.
Good leaders have the emotional intelligence to understand and accept that change is inevitable. Instead of trying to maintain a status quo just for the sake of consistency, embrace change and innovation. Be open to new ideas and alternative ways of thinking. Everyone brings a unique perspective to the table, and that is something to take advantage of, not discourage.
When solving a problem, encourage team members to provide their insights. When employees feel like they can openly bring new ideas to the table, true innovation, engagement and success can prevail.
Key takeaway: Encourage your employees to bring new ideas and perspectives to the table. By doing so, you empower your team to become more innovative and invested in company growth.
10. Understand your own motivation.
If a person in a leadership position views their role as “just a job,” it’s going to show. To be an effective leader, you need the right motivation. Is it the money or the prestige you care about, or do you sincerely want to inspire people to do their best?
St. Marie advised leaders to really ask themselves why they want to lead. “I look at leadership as an honor and a vocation. If, in your heart, you feel leadership is your destiny and how you’ll make a difference in this world, then you are certainly starting from the right place.”
In addition to what motivates you, Ohlrich said it is important to know what decreases your energy. “Knowing your strengths and weaknesses help you diversify your team and get a well-rounded portfolio of skills. It helps you not hire carbon copies of yourself and surround yourself with others who are not like you.”
Your leadership style plays a role in how you interact with employees and should be evaluated as well. There are nine different leadership styles, and the best leaders are able to adapt each style to their situations and employees. If you are currently in a leadership role and aren’t sure where you stand on some of these qualities, you can take a quick leadership self-assessment quiz from the Leading With Courage Academy to assess your leadership abilities.
Remember that being a good leader takes time. Although some individuals are naturally inclined to have good leadership skills, it is something anyone can learn and improve upon. With hard work, dedication and strategic planning, you can lead your team to success.