The Five Keys to Being an Effective Leader
t its core, leadership is the ability to inspire the people around you to work towards a vision. Leadership isn't a title. Leadership doesn't have a single or "correct" style. It is nuanced and often subtle.
Contrary to popular belief, not every leader is born a leader. Yes, there are the people who seemingly have the leader gene the moment they learn to speak. But, for so many others, it's a conscious effort over time to build up the confidence and intentionality demanded of a strong leader. And, as a matter of fact, every strong leader recognizes that it takes constant practice and intentional growth to continue being a strong leader. In that way, once you've decided you want to be a leader, it becomes a lifelong journey. If you don't think you are a leader right now, you can be. Here are what I've found to be 5 major keys (among SO many other pieces) in being an effective leader:
- The ability to inspire those around you (i.e. understanding your people)
- Quick critical thinking and decision-making
- Strong communication
- External confidence
"At its core, leadership is the ability to inspire the people around you to work towards a vision. Leadership isn't a title. Leadership doesn't have a single or "correct" style. It is nuanced and often subtle."
1. The ability to inspire those around you (i.e. understanding your people)
You can't inspire the people around you unless you know them. On a team, this means having a deep understanding of the people as individuals and as a group. There are so many ways to better understand the people on your team, but my favorite way is by using 16Personalities.com, a fun and friendly adaption of the Myers-Briggs test. Now, there have been plenty of valid criticisms of the whole Myers-Briggs system. HOWEVER! It's very important to recognize that the results people get are not steadfast, and it's 100% true that people adapt to other personality styles depending on the situation they're put into. One of my close mentors in college use to describe this well by saying that everyone has a neutral working style, a stressed out working style, and a laid-back working style. The result your team members get when they truthfully take the test will allow you to read the in-depth descriptions of each personality type including workplace habits, friendships, strengths & weaknesses, and more.
From this, you will have an incredible understanding of each individual on your teams, including how you can expect them to work with one other and how they want to work with you. It's important, though, to not rely exclusively on this. Make sure to set aside time to get to know the individuals on your teams beyond what you can gather from a standardized assessment like Myers-Briggs.
From there, you will know exactly what motivates people, and you can cater to exactly what they need to hear or see when working towards a collective vision. To be a strong leader, it is crucial that the people around you are all motivated to work towards the vision. People want someone or something to look up to for guidance. A strong leader is that person because when things get stressful, when people are burnt out, or they're just having a bad day, they NEED something to get them back up and going again. A strong leader MUST be able to inspire because otherwise, you'll have an apathetic, stressed out, tense team. That means less productivity, less fun, and lower-quality work overall.
Don't skimp out on this part. This is arguably the most important part of being a leader, and by practicing all of this, you will notice your emotional intelligence growing each day. Even if you can't take the time to get to know everyone, you need to understand them as a whole. Know the culture. Know what motivates them. Know how you can inspire them.
2. Quick critical thinking and decision-making
There's no quick and easy way to suddenly become a faster decision-maker. For me, becoming a quicker, more decisive and confident decision-maker was in practicing it in ordinary ways. Not taking too much time to decide on what I want to eat at a restaurant, for example. But, there's no denying that the ability to think through difficult situations quickly is an essential part of being a strong leader.
However, part of being able to make quick decisions is knowing the level of importance of something. If you're a perfectionist, everything is equally important. This is not effective because as a perfectionist, you'll end up taking the same amount of time making the decision about the color napkins at your upcoming event and the content of the actual event. When you let go of perfectionism, you realize that nobody will care what color the napkins are when you have outstanding content and a precise agenda. Learn to prioritize tasks so that you can spend less time worrying about minutia and using that saved time to focus on thinking through the more consequential tasks.
3. Strong communication
Nobody can get inside your head to understand what you mean except for you. To be able to convey your ideas, opinions, constructive feedback, and vision is an essential part of being a leader. They say the truest sign of intelligence is being able to explain complicated ideas in a way that anybody could understand. The same is true of being a leader conveying your thoughts. So, how do you practice this?
Determine how often your teams need thorough updates of what's going on in your company or organization. Try out that schedule, and then seek out the feedback from the people on your teams to see if they need more or less updates. This sounds basic, but if you were to disappear one day, would anybody on your team be able to take over for you? Not everyone needs to know every single detail of your job, but people shouldn't be totally lost if you end up sick and out of office for a few days.
As for giving and receiving feedback, great leaders embrace it like no other. However, there's no denying that feedback is awkward as hell. Done right, it will be a miracle for your productivity and overall culture. My favorite method of learning to give feedback is by starting with the template "What I appreciate about (topic at hand) is (something genuine), AND I think you can be even more effective if (feedback)." Now, there are a lot of variations of this template, but the key ideas here are that you are showing genuine appreciation of someone's ideas or habits, and using "and" to build on that. When you use the word "but" to follow up on the initial appreciation, you're discrediting what you said first. It comes across as fake and rude. Practice giving and seeking feedback often.
4. External confidence
Listen, you don't have to be the wolf of wall street to be an example of external confidence. All this section means is that when you make decisions, even when they are difficult decisions, you need to convey to your team that you're confident in your decision and that you know what you're doing (even if you don't). When you're a leader, people look to you for guidance. If you make a decision or have an idea but you can't confidently explain it, you won't be seen as a leader because people won't believe in you or your idea. Again, this doesn't have to be a big personality. You don't have to be the loudest person in the room. You just have to sound sure of yourself.
A couple ways to build on this are to take a public speaking class to learn how your pace, tone, and inflection can sway an audience, even when that audience is just your team of three other people. I also like to think that with building external confidence, you can "fake it until you make it." Watch videos of people whose personalities you think are confident, and emulate them.
It would be wrong not to mention that leadership is nuanced, deeply personal, and unique to each person. Don't lose sight of who you are in your quest to be a strong leader. You don't have to become someone else to be a strong leader; you just have to intentionally build on your existing strengths.
This one article with my personal opinions is not the one and only way to be a strong leader. By reading more articles and talking to people who you look up to, you'll find the common themes that speak to you the most. From there, you will know what you need to do.
At its core, leadership is the ability to inspire the people around you to work towards a vision. Leadership isn't a title. Leadership doesn't have a single or "correct" style. It is nuanced and often subtle. Once you decide you are committed to being a leader, you've embarked on a lifelong journey.
I always love talking all things leadership and brainstorming through unique situations. For more of my thoughts on leadership, reach out!