— April 18, 2018
It’s easy to identify effective leaders in an organization, but harder to define exactly what qualities make someone a great leader. Rather than settle for the vague “I know it when I see it” mindset, let’s consider these three common characteristics of effective leaders and understand how they increase team creativity and productivity.
1. Effective Leaders Set Clear Expectations
It’s up to the leader to fully explain a project’s purpose, goal and timeline. When people understand the details, they can prepare to handle the obstacles that always pop up along the way. After receiving their assignments, team members should be able to answer these questions correctly:
- What needs to be done?
- Who is responsible for each task?
- Why is the task important?
- When does it need to be completed?
Note that there is no discussion of “how.” Leave that to the employee.
2. Effective Leaders Empower & Trust Employees
There are good managers and there are micromanagers; the latter variety is almost universally disliked. Micromanagers can’t run effective teams, and may even destroy entire companies, consultant and USC Business professor, Ira Kalb noted:
“Good managers need to focus on their job responsibilities and fight the urge to meddle in the jobs of subordinates. While many believe they are helping their organizations by micromanaging, in too many cases, they are doing the opposite.”
Give your team members the responsibility and authority to complete the tasks their way. Avoid being rigid and controlling about the work process. That stifles creativity and shows a lack of trust in their abilities.
This isn’t an endorsement of passive leadership. When needed, get down in the trenches with your employees and work alongside them. After all, you’re a team and you succeed or fail together. Otherwise, take a deep breath, step back, and let the employees find their own way.
3. Effective Leaders Provide Coaching & Support along the Way
Let’s be clear: coaching is not micromanaging, but there is often a fine line between staying engaged and being overbearing. A coach is focused on the success of both the whole team and individual team members. He works to ensure the success of both. This requires regular communication. So you need to:
- Check in regularly to talk about the project and its progress in a way that’s comfortable for employees. Some may prefer regularly-scheduled meetings while others like less formal interaction.
- Provide guidance and feedback. Keep the lines of communication open so that employees feel free to discuss problems or highlight issues that concern them.
This sort of continual engagement shows that you’re actually interested in the success of your employees and the project. You haven’t just dumped a bunch of work on your team and walked out.
Coaching and open communication help you better understand your employees’ strengths, weaknesses, and goals. It increases loyalty and group cohesiveness because they know you see them as individuals, not a collection of interchangeable job titles. That’s important for job satisfaction and retention. Unfortunately, Gallup’s 2017 “State of the American Workplace” report found that this sort of leadership style is alarmingly uncommon:
- 21% of employees “strongly agree” that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.
- 30% “strongly agree” that their manager involves them in setting goals.
- 23% “strongly agree” that their manager provides meaningful feedback.
- 21% “strongly agree” that their performance metrics are within their control.
It sounds like many employees are enduring grim work environments. It’s no wonder then that 51% of those surveyed said that they’re actively looking for new jobs or watching for openings.
WalMart founder Sam Walton believed that leaders should build people up, not tear them down:
“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”
It may take a lot of self-control to not jump in and grab the wheel, but resist the temptation – unless it’s a true emergency. Showing trust and confidence is the best way to empower employees to take risks, move outside their comfort zones, and do their best work.
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