IMPORTANCE OF EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP
Although there isn’t a single right way to effectively lead a team, there are several characteristics common among successful leader and managers you should consider when developing your leadership skills.
Incorporating these abilities into your professional development can enable you to make difficult decisions, align your organization on common goals, and lead your team to success.
WHY EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP IS IMPORTANT IN BUSINESS
Ineffective leadership can cost companies more than just morale. According to research from Gallup, 24 percent of employees are actively disengaged as a result of poor management, leading to teams that are less productive, less profitable, and more likely to cause turnover. And that turnover adds up quickly: translating into nearly two times the annual salary of every employee who quits.
That’s why effective leadership skills are important. In order to retain employees, satisfy customers, and improve company productivity, you need people who can effectively communicate the company’s vision, guide teams, and influence change.
If you aspire to be that person, here’s how you can become a more effective leader.
CHARACTERISTICS OF AN EFFECTIVE LEADER
1. Ability to Influence Others
“[Leadership] is all about influencing people,” said Kirstin Lynde, founder of leadership development firm Catalyze Associates, in a Facebook Live interview.
Early in your career, you might exercise authority by being the go-to person on a certain subject within your organization, or by actively listening and building consensus among your team. As you advance, you may exert influence by knowing how to articulate the direction you think the company should head in next.
According to the online course Power and Influence for Positive Impact, influence is “the ability to produce effects on other people’s behavior.” Influencing others requires building a strong sense of trust with your colleagues.
“This means [you] need to understand the types of resources people value when it comes to achieving safety and self-esteem,” says Harvard Business School Professor Julie Battilana in her course Power and Influence for Positive Impact.
Focus on understanding their motivations and encourage them to share their opinions. You can use that knowledge to make change and show their voice matters.
2. Transparency—to an Extent
Part of building trust is being transparent. The more open you are about the organization’s goals and challenges, the easier it is for employees to understand their role and how they can individually contribute to the company’s overall success. That sense of value and purpose translates into higher levels of employee engagement.
“To get people on board, they need to grasp what you’re conveying so they’re excited to join you in turning that direction into a reality,” says HBS Professor Anthony Mayo in the online course Organizational Leadership. “Your communication should meet people where they are, give them a sense of where the organization is going, and then give them a roadmap for how they can bridge the gap from where the organization is now to where you want to take it.”
While transparency is often intended to promote collaboration, knowledge sharing, and accountability, too much of it can have the opposite effect, according to Ethan Bernstein, an associate professor of organizational behavior at HBS.
“Wide-open workspaces and copious real-time data on how individuals spend their time can leave employees feeling exposed and vulnerable,” writes Bernstein in the Harvard Business Review. “Being observed changes their conduct. They start going to great lengths to keep what they’re doing under wraps, even if they have nothing bad to hide.”
Bernstein encourages balancing transparency with privacy and setting different types of boundaries to still foster experimentation and collaboration.
3. Encourage Risk-Taking and Innovation by a Leader
Experimentation is critical to establishing and maintaining your company’s competitive advantage. Great leaders recognize this and encourage risk-taking and innovation within their organization.
“You can’t wave a wand, dictate to people that they need to be more creative, and wake up the next day to find people taking risks and trying new things,” Mayo says in Organizational Leadership.
Instead, leaders must actively foster a culture of innovation by supporting experimentation, challenging unwritten rules, and embracing mistakes. These steps, backed by data, can yield innovations that wouldn’t have otherwise surfaced.
By creating a culture that embraces failure and experimentation, employees are more emboldened to test theories or propose new ideas, because they see that creativity is valued. For example, Google’s innovation lab, X, offered bonuses to each team member who worked on a project the company ultimately decided to kill as soon as evidence suggested it wouldn’t scale, in an effort to “make it safe to fail.”
After all, big breakthroughs don’t happen when companies play it safe; experimentation is needed to reach lofty business goals. If well-intentioned, failures often become valuable lessons.
4. Integrity and Accountability of a Leader
One of the most important aspects of leadership is demonstrating integrity. In a survey by consulting firm Robert Half, 75 percent of employees ranked “integrity” as the most important attribute of a leader. In a separate survey by Sunnie Giles, creator of Quantum Leadership, 67 percent of respondents ranked “high moral standards” as the most important leadership competency. Yet, it can be easy for leaders to deprioritize integrity when faced with organizational power. The ability to balance power and accountability can set successful leaders apart from ineffective ones.
“It’s precisely these two levers—sharing power and accountability—that enable workplaces and societies to keep power in check,” Battilana says in Power and Influence for Positive Impact.
Employees want to know that their manager will advocate for them, treat them fairly, and, ultimately, do what’s right for the business. As a leader, it’s important to not only avoid the consolidation of power but also any decision-making that could negatively affect others. Doing so can foster trust within your team and model behavior for others in the organization. The culmination of these factors can help you build a successful team.
5. Act Decisively
In today’s fast-changing, complex business environment, effective leaders need to make strategic decisions quickly—even before any definitive information is available.
Once you make a choice, stick with it, unless there’s a compelling reason to shift focus. Your goal is to move the organization forward, but that won’t happen if you can’t make a decision without wavering.
While timely decision-making is essential for any effective leader, it’s important to remember that decision-making is a process.
“The majority of people think about making decisions as an event,” says HBS Professor Len Schlesinger in the online course Management Essentials. “It’s very rare to find a single point in time where a ‘decision of significance’ is made and things go forward from there. What we’re really talking about is a process. The role of the manager in overseeing that process is straightforward, yet, at the same time, extraordinarily complex.”
By acting decisively, continuously evaluating, and pivoting when necessary, you can lead your organization through the ever-changing business landscape.
6. Demonstrate Resilience
Every decision you make won’t result in success. There will be times when you’re met with failure; it’s your job as a leader to exercise resiliency.
Consider the example of Antarctic explorer Ernest Schackleton presented in HBS Online’s sample business lesson on resilient leadership, led by HBS Professor Nancy Koehn.
When Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, was trapped and crushed by icebergs, the original mission—traversing Antarctica—suddenly became irrelevant. The new mission was to get his team of 28 men home alive. To do so, he needed to quickly lead his team through crisis.
The lesson outlines three key components of Shackleton’s approach that all leaders can learn from when facing major challenges:
- Continuously assess and reassess your leadership approach
- Commit to your primary objective while exercising flexibility
- Maintain belief in the team’s mission by managing collective and individual energies
Effective leaders don’t avoid hard truths or difficult challenges. Instead, they take responsibility for their decisions, maintain optimism, and focus on charting a new course of action. They also help others cope with organizational change and address issues quickly, so that problems don’t fester and escalate.
ASSESSING LEADER STRENGTHS
Becoming an effective leader doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an iterative process and requires you to assess your strengths and evaluate who you are as a communicator and collaborator.
“In many cases, it’s your strong performance as an individual contributor that lays the foundation for your leadership roles,” says Mayo in the course Leadership Principles. “But what got you there won’t get you to the next level. As you shift from doing the work yourself to creating the conditions in which others excel, your identity is less about your individual accomplishments and tasks and more about the collective work of the group.”
With that shift in mind, you can take action to develop your leadership style and become the type of leader your organization needs.