Have you ever heard someone described as a “born leader”? The description implies that some people are born suitable for leadership and others aren’t. But there’s also a phrase from legendary football coach Vince Lombardi that has been frequently paraphrased over the years: “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.” This quote seems to be more realistic since it’s unlikely anyone is actually born knowing how to lead. Some people may have grown into traits that are great for leadership but those who haven’t can develop them with a little determination. Whatever your starting point, you can learn what’s needed to be a better leader and work to improve your leadership skills.
Learn about different leadership styles.
How you manage a group will determine how effective you are as a leader. Take a look at Lewin’s leadership styles and figure out which one describes your current style best. There are three main types. First there’s authoritarian or autocratic which involves telling people what to do and how to do it and creates a clear divide between the leader and the people being led. It’s useful when decisions need to be made quickly and the leader has the knowledge to make a good decision. It can be problematic when used frequently, though, because people are less inclined to like leader and more inclined to feel limited in their roles. This can result in a team who is unhappy working under their leader which affects productivity and cooperation.
Then there’s delegative or laissez-faire leadership. Leaders who use this style offer minimal guidance and allow the team to work fairly independently or work things out amongst themselves. It can be useful when dealing with a group of highly-qualified individuals, but can also result in disorganization and a lack of productivity.
Finally, there’s participative or democratic leadership where the leader offers guidance and organization but the team is involved in making decisions and giving input. It’s typically considered the most effective style because there is one person keeping everything together and moving but all members of the group get to contribute which makes them feel motivated and enthusiastic. It’s a good middle ground that works for most scenarios.
So identify which leadership style you’re working with now and decide if it’s appropriate for your work environment. Learning about them can also help you identify your strengths and weaknesses as a leader so you can work with what you know you’re good at and improve where you’re a bit lacking. It’s beneficial to become familiar with the other styles and their benefits as well so that you can recognize when the situation calls for one of them and slip into it. Knowledge is power, and being aware of leadership techniques and your own abilities will help you become a better leader.
Learn to communicate effectively.
One skill you should definitely analyze in yourself and work on is communication. Great leaders are able to express themselves clearly and effectively so that the people following them understand what’s going on and what needs to be done next. And listening is just as important; when you’re able to listen to what your team has to say and take it into account, you have a clearer picture of how each person is functioning and what their needs and concerns are. You know where their strengths and weaknesses are so you can better assess a plan of action when working on projects. Poor communication skills can leave you and your team in a mess due to misunderstandings, while good communication can lead you all to success. Consider what you want to express before you speak so you’re sure you’re clear, and take the time to listen when your group is trying to tell you something.
Be a little more personal.
Knowing the people on your team on a more personal level can help you be a better leader to them. Keeping it appropriate is important, but getting to know what they’re like and what their lives are like can be helpful. If you can understand their passion, their motivations, their struggles, and other major details that make up who they are, you can better offer them guidance on the job and make use of their unique abilities and interests. Letting them know you in a similar way is great too; if they can see you as more than just the person in charge, they might come to like you on a personal level leading to a different kind of respect and new motivation to do well on the team. It’s important to keep things appropriate and remember that your primary relationship is a professional one, but allowing a bit of a personal touch into your leadership can make a positive impact.
Create a positive environment.
When you’re a leader, you have a way of setting the mood for meetings, projects, and the workspace in general. Being conscious of this and choosing to create a positive environment is important. Come to work with a positive attitude and your team is more likely to have the same attitudes. Inspire your team with your passion and provide encouragement to get them excited about the work at hand. Be a better leader by creating a workspace that makes your team feel good; your team will be happier and more productive for it.
Challenge the people you lead.
But a more positive environment doesn’t mean everyone gets to slack off and relax; challenge your workers. Not only will this push your team to be more productive and produce better work which is good for business, it’ll help them be the best versions of themselves because they can learn just what they’re capable of and develop their abilities further. Being a good leader isn’t only about how much is being accomplished and how well business is doing; it’s also about the effect you have on your team. Push them to show themselves and the rest of the group what they’re capable of.
Give praise where praise is due.
And when they succeed or complete exceptional work, give praise where it’s due. All too often employers, teachers, and other leaders focus on offering criticism and, while it can be valuable in some instances, too much criticism will bring an individual down. Offer constructive criticism when needed, but take every opportunity to show your team members appreciation and applaud their successes. Giving them recognition makes them feel accomplished and can be the motivation they need to keep working hard and with enthusiasm. Offer rewards for significant accomplishments and compliment creativity and innovation. You’re a better leader when you can uplift people and get them feeling food about what they’re doing.
Do what needs to be done, even if you don’t want to.
While being a better leader does mean being good to your team, there are times when you’ll have to do things that aren’t so nice. If you’re the leader in a work environment and there’s an individual who is unreliable, not working at an acceptable level, and generally causing problems for the whole team, it’s your responsibility to fire them. It can be a hard thing to do, but being a better leader means facing the unpleasant task head on and doing what needs to be done for the good of the group. If you find it difficult, remind yourself that it has to be done for the sake of everybody’s productivity, so that success can be reached without having a weak link pulling anyone else down. It’s not pleasant, but sometimes being a leader isn’t. Sometimes it’s doing what is necessary despite not wanting to.
Prioritize big problems.
There will be times when it feels like there are so many problems you don’t know what to do, and how you choose to manage the situation will speak volumes about you as a leader. The best leaders know how to prioritize problems and work through the most significant ones first. It can be tempting to put a tough problem on the back burner so you can deal with the simpler ones first, but that can lead to more trouble later. If you want to be a better leader, deal with the most pressing issue first, the one causing the most trouble, so that it’s done with and everyone can carry on. You’ve got to learn to recognize which problem is most significant and which can wait so that disruptions can be minimized.
The role of leader can be extremely challenging due to its importance but also very rewarding when you’ve found a way to thrive in it. Learning to be a better leader is a matter of finding out what makes an effective leader and doing your best to embody those traits and behaviours so that your followers can succeed with your guidance. Even if you don’t feel you’re leader material now, slowly developing the qualities necessary can help you get to a place where you’re ready to manage and organize and group of people in a professional setting. Anyone can take the reins and lead, but it can take some time to learn to lead well.