No matter what field you're in, effective leadership is key to success. But managing a team — especially in critical fields — can sometimes leave leaders feel like they're walking on eggshells... and the times are definitely changing.
In the past, management typically flowed from the top down, with leaders operating in "command and control" mode as Northeastern University puts it. That's a model that won't always fly in today's workplace.
In an ever-shifting environment, leaders must learn to adapt their style, not only to meet the needs of their employees but also to take advantage of today's technological advances. Make no mistake: It's a heavy load to bear, and there is no magical "silver bullet" solution. In fact, the last thing you need as a leader is yet another item (or 10) on your to-do list.
Fortunately, solutions exist and, thankfully, they don't all involve a complete cultural or organizational overhaul.
Adopting a few simple leadership strategies can make a difference today, and get your organization started down the right path for tomorrow.
It's All About Communication
When you picture a powerful leader, you may imagine an iconic scene that likely involves a speaker behind a podium, addressing a rapt (and massive) crowd. In today's world, that massive crowd has largely been replaced by consumers of digital content, with in-person applause and cheers supplanted by likes, shares and re-tweets.
While the delivery system may have changed, one thing remains the same: Effective communication is key to effective leadership. Whether you're leading a small team, a department, a division or an entire company, you must be able to clearly communicate your vision, expectations and ideas to those you lead.
In the digital age, being an effective communicator involves more than just a knack for public speaking. You've got to get a handle on the channels your employees and colleagues use to communicate. Whether that's Slack, email, IMs, in-person meetings or a combo, put your finger on the pulse of your company's communications culture so you can make yourself heard.
That said, effective communicators — and leaders — also add another soft skill to their communications repertoire, that of being a good listener. While it's important to get your voice out there, truly effective communication is a two-way street. For many, listening is difficult because they spend most of the conversation thinking about what they'll say next.
Avoid this trap by working on being present when you're interacting with colleagues or employees. When appropriate, take steps to engage the speaker by asking questions designed to get more information and boost understanding. Using clarifying phrases, such as "so what I'm hearing you say is..." can help ensure that your interpretation of what you're hearing is accurate.
Listening effectively also comes into play when you're soliciting team members' perspectives, another key communication skill. To inspire as a leader, you must seek others' input and take their perspectives into account when developing strategy. You can't do this if you're not listening.
Not only will you have more information with which to make informed decisions, your employees will feel heard and valued. This helps build relationships and connections, which we'll address in our next point.
Build Relationships of Trust
Companies are built on relationships. Clients, employees, colleagues, vendors, investors, the public as a whole... at all levels, an organization's success rises and falls based on relationships. We've already discussed the importance of being an effective listener, so you can solicit your employees' ideas. Showing that you value their input will help establish the relationships of trust that all good leaders need.
Building and maintaining these relationships takes emotional intelligence, says Washington State University's Carson College of Business. Take steps to develop your emotional IQ, such as:
- Soliciting feedback about your leadership performance and making changes based on critiques
- Not reacting immediately to conflict; rather taking time to respond in ways that align with goals
- Set goals, but be willing to adapt in the face of change
- Remain aware of your own and others' emotions
- Practice empathetic listening
- Be positive and approachable
- Treat team members with kindness and express appreciation for their efforts
Improving your emotional intelligence will help you build the relationships you need to inspire, motivate and lead your team.
Prioritize Self- and Team Development
In a world that seems to move ever faster, it's easy for leaders to overlook the importance of taking time for self-care and development. Setting aside time each week to prioritize your own development is a step in the right direction.
You may choose to learn something new, perhaps by watching online training videos or taking a quick leadership course. Maybe you want to work on interpersonal skills, get tips on how to motivate employees, or take a problem-solving workshop. You may want to take the time to research updates in your field or industry. If it's been an especially hectic week, you may want to use your development time to simply plan ahead for upcoming tasks and goals.
Whatever you use this time for, prioritizing self-development can help you slow down and work on being proactive, rather than reactive. Making time for your own needs can also help you avoid burnout, a common problem among both employees and leaders.
Focusing on team members' professional development is also essential. Not only does this show your employees that you value them, it can also slow churn and help your company retain employees.
On a regular basis, meet with your team members and identify their goals and interests. Then help them access the resources they need to progress. From e-learning to networking opportunities and trainings, managers can facilitate employees' development.
Similarly, it's your job to ensure that your employees have paths to grow. Just as you — like most managers — likely didn't start out in a leadership position but worked up to where you are today, your employees need to know that upward mobility channels exist. The development and training programs you offer should help the next generation of leaders get a leg up.
Effective leaders understand the importance of investing in both their own and their team's development. Remember: When you advance, someone will need to step into your role. It's your job to identify and prepare those individuals.
While there's no one-size-fits-all solution, these strategies can help leaders develop management strategies that work for the long-term. By making the effort to truly listen to their team members, taking the time to build relationships based on trust, and investing in professional development, you can make lasting inroads toward more effective leadership.
Would you like to learn more about leadership? My presentation, The Future of Leadership: 4 Surprising Strategies You Must Use to Become More Competitive, takes a deeper dive into insights and strategy that you can use today to lay the groundwork for success tomorrow. For more on how these leadership trends will impact your business, schedule a consultation here.
Scott Foster is President of Wellco, based in Michigan. Scott is a frequently-invited expert and speaker regarding leadership, engagement and high-value health & wellness. Wellco provides award-winning solutions to measurably improve health engagement and outcomes. For more information, contact Wellco.
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