Being a leader requires making a daily choice to learn, grow, self-reflect, admitting when wrong, but most importantly, putting others before themselves. It may seem easy to do, but in reality, it is a tiring, yet rewarding role. Things like politics, egos, vindication, and being right get in the way of making decisions for the right reasons. Every leader finds a time in which they need to re-energize their frame of mind in order to best serve their team. Here are some tried and true practices of effective leaders that can help them maintain leadership balance and drive.
1. Find the core reason for wanting to be a leader – There are many defining moments that build a leader. Not all are obvious. In fact, some of the best opportunities to shape a leadership style occurs when observing people behaving at their worst. When considering a leadership role, be sure to understand the core reason for wanting to become a leader. It should be a personal choice to lead, where one’s core beliefs for being a leader will drive their actions and decisions. Earning more money or owning the title does not make a person a leader. Being able to tell others what to do may show effective results in the short term, but that behavior is not a sustainable successful leadership style.
Instead, look inward. Finding this core leadership reason will look different for each individual, but there are common themes and characteristics that navigates leaders towards their leadership style. For example, the desire to teach others, encouraging them to try new skills could be their core leadership reason. Providing direction and strategy towards one common goal that helps a team or company succeed is another reason. Whatever this core reason is, finding it and standing behind it will help someone navigate their leadership path.
2. Delegate more – Many times leaders are chosen because of their ability to get things done. Being one of the top performers on a team is a common way to get there. Knowing what to do and how to get things done is a great way to gain credibility amongst peers and other leaders. However, those same traits as a leader may be perceived as micromanaging and disengaging to a team. Take a step back and allow the team to grow and learn through mistakes and experience. Trust them, give them opportunities, and let them fail. Use these experiences to mentor and coach up the next leader.
3. Assume positive intent – This may seem like one of the easiest things to do. However, in a world of innovation, and fast-paced environments, communication can break down, decisions can be made without the proper sign-offs, and steps can get missed. Instead of assuming it was automatically done to keep a team out of the loop or to circumvent others’ decisions, try to ask questions for understanding first. More often than not, when one assumes positive intent first, they realize there was a breakdown in communication, the process, or something else that prevented all parties from understanding the entire situation. Asking what went into the decisions and keeping a positive frame of mind not only gets to the root cause of the situation, but can be done in a manner to sustain business relationships and build trust throughout the organization that could have otherwise been strained.
4. Earn the team’s trust – There are a lot of politics that go into being a leader. Not only do leaders have to deal with other people’s agendas across peer groups, competitors, etc., but how their team performs reflects on them individually as a leader. It has long been proven that engaged employees outperform non-engaged employees. When an employee feels heard, empowered, and trusted, they become a more productive asset to the team. When a leader earns an employee’s trust, they know that leader has their best interest in mind, and soon, everything else falls into place. Leaders need to take the time to get to know their employees, both personally and professionally. They should know who their families are. Understand their career goals and objectives. Have genuine, authentic conversations with them. Ask them how leaders can help them achieve their goals, and how they think they can help the organization thrive. One would be surprised by the engagement they see when employees feel they are cared about as a person rather than just a number.
5. Lead by example – This should go without saying, but many people talk the talk, but don’t walk it. As leaders, people are watching them, all the time. They are comparing what leaders say with the actions they take. It only takes one example of not following their own words to lose all credibility as a leader. The best way to gain credibility is to practice what they preach. If a leader says they are an advocate for work/life balance, they shouldn’t expect their team to answer emails at nights and on weekends. If they say they value diversity, who they choose as leaders should be diverse in thoughts, gender, race, and experience. If they say their teams should be courageous and to challenge the status quo, they should highlight and reward employees for doing that. As a leader, think about what one wants for the business and the team, and be deliberate in what is done and what is requested to accomplish it.
6. Prioritize – The truth is, there will always be a list of work to do that is longer than the resources or funding that exists. Asking people to do all of them at once actually decreases productivity, and causes more room for error and delays in the work. Creating focus, and intentionally taking everything but the top priorities off of people’s plates will get more accomplished with higher efficiency and accuracy. It will also increase the probability for the end product to be more time- and cost-efficient. Prioritizing isn’t the hard part of the role – it is holding people to it as well as making sure there is a process in place to reprioritize when necessary. When doing so, results will occur more quickly than anticipated, and teams will be thankful for the focus and the commitment they feel they received to do the job they were asked to do. To learn more about prioritization, read our blog “Ruthless Prioritization in Project Environments.”
7. Set a boundary – Having friends at work is okay. People should have friends at work as they often spend more time with co-workers than their family, and a pleasant work culture makes every project run more smoothly. Leaders should encourage positive relationships but also make it clear that performance as an employee will not change regardless of any friendships formed. Before engaging in activities outside of work with team members, ensure that the boundary between work and personal activities are respected, understood, and professional. If this separation proves to be difficult, the best advice is to not blur the line.
These are simple but powerful reminders leaders can return to when they need to reset their views and expectations as a leader. Being a leader is forever an educational adventure. How a person leads, and why they lead will continue to change throughout one’s life and career. Remember to find that core reason and to stay true to it. In doing so, the passion for being a leader will stay strong and it will show through the actions and leadership they display, each and every day.