What Makes a Leader?
Every team has a leader, whether appointed, assigned or unspoken. Within an organization or group setting, someone is responsible for supporting a team by removing any workflow barriers, harnessing the collective effort and effectively communicating to their team in a way that inspires and empowers. A successful leader may yield a successful team, but what is a leader? What techniques and skills shape effective leadership? What steps can you take to become a leader?
Though every professional may hold a different definition of a leader, here are some guiding qualities and principles you can use to become a better leader:
Establish a Credible Presence
In order to be seen as a leader, you need to establish an executive presence or the observable qualities of a leader, like confidence, concern and composure. In his article “Establishing Credibility and Presence,” Ken White, Ph. D., Associate Dean MBA and Executive Programs at the Mason School of Business explains, “People notice details,” all of which reflect directly on you. White continues, “The way you are perceived by others is directly related to your success. If your colleagues, clients and bosses see you as credible, good things will come your way.”
Consider yourself a brand or product—how does your attire and demeanor “market” you? What could these personal choices reveal about you to someone on a first meeting? For starters, if you’re new to the office or role, try to do the following to leave a lasting impression:
- Introduce yourself with a firm handshake to each team member
- Explain your role and credit your teammates when interacting with other executives
- Be steady and self-assured in your verbal delivery during meetings or conversations, avoiding rambling and stumbling over your words
- Maintain your calm, level-headed poise during potential crises
- When others struggle, be there to support them back to success
When entering a leadership role, ask a friend or trusted colleague to analyze your behavior and provide feedback on your posturing or personal brand.
As you get situated in a new workplace within a leadership role, take charge, but make sure your team knows to follow your lead first by communicating clearly. A successful leader must communicate effectively, whether it’s speaking, listening or writing. If you can’t relay your vision to your team, it’s impossible to work towards the same goal.
Clearly state your desired outcomes, quickly clarify any confusion and actively work to keep your team on the same page. Uncertain teams flounder, and unclear expectations can cause confusion or a subtle distrust or doubt in leadership.
Operate transparently to earn your team’s trust. Encourage your colleagues to share their complaints or concerns with you directly, and if they do, remain composed, and truly listen to them. When a team feels heard, they tend to feel valued, leading them to share ideas more readily in the future. Show your team that you’re listening by:
- Paying close attention to what the speaker is saying by not interrupting
- Staying present in the conversation and acknowledging you understand what is being said
- Making eye contact with the speaker, while nodding or taking notes to show you follow along
Encourage Learning to Foster Creativity
Wicked problems call for creative solutions, but nothing stifles creativity and innovation like the fear of failure or punishment. Regardless of one’s industry, a leader must foster their team’s creative thinking by setting the conditions for your team to generate, embrace and execute new ideas.
Successful leaders encourage a creative work culture by:
- Empowering employees to take calculated risks rather than avoiding them at all costs
- Embracing ambiguity, rather than seeking immediate resolution
- Allowing solutions to be prepared over time
- Prioritizing good ideas and innovative products over quicker turnaround
- Preparing multiple prototypes or variations of potential products instead of finish projects
- Staying present and engaged as a leader, offering guidance as your team goes
The end result will be better ideas, a more collaborative team and an environment that supports and fosters conceptualization and experimentation.
Manage with Empathy
Lead by example, and enter the workplace with learning already in mind. When first joining a team, take the time to show you care about each position and know its value to the team and business overall. Ask team members any questions you may have, and make a sincere attempt to situate yourself in their roles, so you can fully comprehend each position’s ins and outs. Learn why your team makes certain choices or mistakes, so you can suggest better strategies for improvement in the long run.
In fact, shadowing a team member you have responsibility for helps you to gain a clear understanding of their daily work life. Keep an open mind and jump into something you might not know, because doing so allows you to understand a team member’s experience firsthand. Once you know how each role operates, an effective leader can use their diverse perspective to fine-tune any position as needed.
A good leader must unite their team. Teams that work together tend to create better, more innovative products, which calls for the need to collaborate. Challenge your colleagues to think outside of their comfort zones and tackle problems together. Bring your team together as a group to receive general feedback on projects, so each team member’s voice is heard. Collaboration allows a team to share knowledge and expertise quickly. Only by having a team that works together can you create the kind of well-rounded deliverable expected in today’s market.
By following these guidelines on how to be a good leader, you can motivate your team to enact meaningful and innovative changes from a well-rounded and unique perspective.