The ability to lead others well is one that can transform your working life, paving the way for exciting promotions, harmony with colleagues, and a newfound joy in your career.
Our understanding of good leadership has changed dramatically over the last decade or two, moving from the traditional authoritarian and ‘top-down’ model to one of sharing visions, showing vulnerability and encouraging others to shine. It’s an exciting time to work on your leadership skills, as many companies all over the world undergo a revolution of understanding in what makes a great leader.
We’ve assembled 6 of the most powerful strategies to become a better leader.
1. Learn to listen. This may sound blindingly obvious, but it’s the core principle of good leadership—and most of us get it very wrong until we train ourselves to do it better. Every single person of your team wants to be heard by you, and if you interrupt them, talk over the top of them, finish their sentences for them, or just brush them off entirely when they’re trying to speak, then they won’t feel valued and resentment will begin to fester.
It can be hard for busy people (or impatient people) to slow down and really listen- so even if you think the person is waffling, talking in circles, or that you already know what they’re trying to say- resist that urge to jump in and let them finish. You’ll be amazed at the positive reaction you get when you open your ears and let them speak, while keeping eye contact and showing you’re engaging with what they’re saying. You might even learn something important.
2. Learn to recognise your own bias. Don’t let your brain get ‘welded on’ to certain ideas, ways of doing things, or even people. While it’s quite natural to find a familiar rhythm where we favour particular projects, systems, or star employees, you’ll often find that rhythm all too easily turns into a rut where it’s hard to identify whether you’re really being objective anymore. Office favouritism is a classic example of this, but bias can also blur your vision on every aspect of your leadership.
Ask yourself: would I be as disappointed or angry with this result if my star employee had done it? Or ‘Have I actually listened to the team about their issues with the software I chose?’ ‘Is the way I’ve always organised projects actually the best way? Sit down and assess your leadership strategies as if seeing them for the first time.
3. Show vulnerability where it matters. The traditional model of leadership has always operated on the mantra of ‘never show weakness’, but this is completely wrong. Revealing certain vulnerabilities to your team will actually foster loyalty and goodwill, so freely admit to it when you were wrong or don’t know something, and share well-chosen personal stories to show your human side.
Vulnerability is what bonds humans, so while you don’t need to go as far as talking about the darkest details of your messy divorce (and in fact you shouldn’t do that), opening up a bit to your team in an authentic way builds trust. A good way to start might be putting your hand up when you’re not great at something, saying things like ‘Oh, I’m not great at that aspect, can you show me how to do it better?
4. Tell stories to bring people into your vision. Humankind has been telling stories to make sense of their world since cavemen daubed animals on the walls of their caves, and great leaders through have always known that you need to have an engaging vision in order to inspire. Make sure everyone understands what the team goals are, why they’re important, and how to get there, as well as how they fit into them as individuals- and make it as exciting and personally relevant to each of them as possible.
Break big projects into small chunks so the team have regular success (and regular rewards.) This creates a fantastic sense of achievement and momentum within the group.
5. Find out their ‘why’. The better you understand your team’s individual aspirations and motivators, the better you’ll be able to lead them to their potential. Some people are motivated more by mastery of skills and need constant challenges, some favour autonomous work, some are driven predominantly by a sense of greater purpose. Some will respond better to financial incentives, while others will respond better to a better work-life balance.
Of course, most of us are motivated by all of these things to different degrees, and your success as a leader depends on getting to know what makes your team tick. Once you know people’s dominant motivators, you can develop them and lead them in different ways. Everyone is different, so don’t try to treat them all the same.
6. Encourage ideas and be generous with crediting others. Build others up, encourage their rise to greatness rather than stunting it through a feeling of threat or ego. True leaders help others succeed. They don’t look at others as threats; they have confidence in themselves and therefore encourage others, share ideas and praise others freely.
By developing your leadership skills, you bring out the best in others, and the best in yourself.