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What makes a great leader?

Written by: CABA
Published on: 11 Oct 2020

While management is typically about managing resources, completing tasks and getting things done, leadership is much more strategic, and very much future-focused. Effective leadership skills empower you to build trust with, influence and motivate people to achieve goals.  

So which attributes make a good leader? 

1.    Self-awareness; a deep understanding of ethics, emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs and drivers. Leaders with strong self-awareness are often honest with themselves and others, and as a result, are neither overly critical nor unrealistically hopeful. Leaders with higher levels of self-awareness are also often better at hiring subordinates with skills that they lack. 

Similarly, it’s important to know the strengths, abilities and talents of the people in your team. Try asking each of your workers what they think their strengths are and what kind of role they think they would excel in. Your team and its performance will be stronger – and more fulfilled – if the right people are given the right responsibilities. If there are any gaps in your team's knowledge or experience, support them by organising training sessions, so that nobody feels left behind. 

2.    Self-regulation; controlling and channelling emotional impulses to lead effectively. Leaders who are good at regulating their emotions often have a propensity for reflection and thoughtfulness and are comfortable with ambiguity and change. They are often more positive, which impacts on those around them and is essential to productivity and employee happiness. 

3.    Motivation; highly driven to achieve beyond expectations. Motivated leaders display lots of passion for their work, seek out creative challenges and love to learn. Self-motivation is central to action-based leadership and will inspire and encourage team members to follow their leader’s example. 

4.    Empathy; considering employees’ feelings while making important decisions. Leaders who show empathy are often better at developing and retaining talent. This is crucial for increasing a team’s functionality and ensuring talented employees do not leave the organisation – taking their knowledge and skills with them. 

5.    Social skills; able to move people in the desired direction. Leaders who have good social skills are often adept at managing teams and are expert persuaders. Fundamentally, leaders have good social skills if they want to successfully influence a team and align their attitudes with an organisation’s overall mission and goals. 

6.    Responsibility; whether this takes the form of delegating work, or having the confidence to take responsibility when things go wrong, employees’ productivity is immediately impacted by their leader’s ability to take responsibility and lead the team in their daily work. New leaders often struggle with letting go and delegating work. The secret of success here is building trust. Get to know your team. Understand the skills and knowledge of each individual; their strengths and development areas and how they can contribute. Delegation then becomes a much easier process. 

7.    Adaptability; being able to quickly adapt to new situations is critical to being an effective leader. Leaders who possess strong intuition and creativity tend to be better at thinking outside the box and approach new situations in a way that’s in the best interest of workers as well as the organisation. Being open to positive and negative feedback is vital in understanding how well our management and leadership style is working for the team and offers us an opportunity to adapt. Listening to team members, understanding their needs and adapting our leadership style to get the best performance and contribution from them is crucial.  

8.    Communication; having the ability to communicate clearly directly impacts a leader’s ability to influence and motivate others into contributing to the overall success of an organisation. Employees want to believe in what they’re working towards and the clearer their leader is at communicating will make it easier for them to understand his/her mission, goals and vision. 

Leadership challenges 

Managing former peers 

One of the most difficult challenges in any person’s career is leading a team of people they used to work with. Here are some tips that could help: 

1.    Be prepared to ride the roller coaster 

Expect some initial resentment and doubt from your team, don’t assume they’ll all be on your side from the outset. You have to accept they won’t always agree with or like your decisions. 

2.    Accept you are no longer part of the gang  

This doesn’t mean eliminating your likeability or friendly approach but you do need to accept that you are now the boss. You need to find a balance between having amicable relationships but still being able to tackle any difficult issues such as poor performance, inappropriate conduct etc. 

3.    Consider the characters 

Some people will be pleased for you, others might be envious and some will be disappointed it wasn’t them. If you have a particularly close friendship with someone, it will be beneficial to have a conversation about how things will need to be professional to avoid any claims of favouritism. Usually, if you have this conversation you will find your friend is understanding and supportive and appreciates you taking the time to have a conversation about it. 

4.    Focus on your relationship with your boss 

Understand the results you have to deliver as a leader and discuss how you plan to do this. Seek support from them to help you make the transition from team player to manager. Get them to announce your promotion to the team and lay out what they expect in terms of support for you.  

5.    Set expectations early 

Present your plans to the team and let them know both what goals you want them to achieve and how. Outline how you will support and involve them. This also helps them to understand how much change is likely to happen. Do some of this in team sessions and then arrange one to ones with each team member to find out how they feel and invite their input. In these individual sessions make it clear that you're always available if they have a problem or need someone to talk to.  

6.    Trust your team 

Micromanagement is never a good way to get the best out of your skilled employees. Managers who trust their workers are far more likely to be rewarded with better performance and results. Giving your team members the freedom to handle tasks in their way, to come up with their solutions to the challenges they face and to make important decisions can boost their confidence no end.  

Giving feedback 

Positive and constructive criticism can help strengthen relationships between workers, managers and employers, and improve the quality of work as well as encourage higher productivity. 

Here are some tips on giving constructive, effective feedback: 

1.    Don’t delay 

For maximum effectiveness, try to say something as soon as possible after the issue arises, rather than waiting before commenting. It’s rarely helpful to get feedback for something you did weeks or months later. 

2.    Choose the right time and place 

Depending on the nature of your feedback, the recipient may not appreciate your conversation being overheard. Before you act, think about whether it’s appropriate to speak up privately or in public. Also, take the recipient’s state of mind into account. If they’re upset, nervous or angry, it may be advisable to wait until they’re calmer and in a better state of mind. 

3.    Avoid getting personal 

Remember that effective feedback shouldn’t be about the person in question, but about the way they have behaved or something they have done. Your comments won’t be seen as constructive if you criticise someone’s appearance, beliefs or values. 

It’s good practice to phrase your feedback in terms of how something has affected you and what you thought about it. This helps the recipient accept your feedback less personally, as they can’t be responsible for how you feel. 

4.    Be specific 

Whatever you’re feeding back on, stick closely to the facts of the matter and be very specific – avoid general statements. Think carefully about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it, and stick to the issue in question. If you’re commenting on something somebody has done or the way they have behaved, mention the specific occasion when it happened. Most importantly, try to offer positive suggestions on how they could do things differently or how they could improve the situation. 

5.    Credit where credit’s due 

Don’t forget to praise your co-workers or employees when they do a good job. Taking the time to let them know how much you appreciate their efforts can boost their self-esteem as well as their attitude towards their job and the company. It also shows them you’re interested in them and the role they play in the workplace. 

Develop your leadership skills with the support of a professional coach. Get in touch to find out more.