How to be an Effective Leader

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Leadership is a key trait of any manager, and there are endless books, presentations or seminars on the subject. Yet, most startups and smaller companies still find their leaders playing it by ear when it comes to taking charge. Or worse, following bad habits they’ve seen in their leadership as they rose through the ranks. What type of leader should you aim to be?

The Listening Leader

One of the worst types of leaders are the ones who do all the talking in meetings, during decision-making processes, and in the office generally. Not only does this discourage anyone else from speaking up, but it stifles the creativity and the potential leadership of others. Learning to listen is a key way to becoming a better manager.

The listening leader will take time to hear other opinions, encourage others to come up with solutions and help to bring the shy members of the team or department to the fore. Using the skill of keeping-their-mouth-closed, a leader can find out which people are worth relying on when it comes to promotions, who can help solve problems, and who can present with flair and confidence. This can enable the leadership to help grow the skill set of others, find people suited to key tasks and ease the pressure from one or two sets of shoulders.

By listening more, a leader can help others to grow and also identify weaknesses in workers that can be improved with training, further education or mentoring. All of this encourages a more interactive and engaging workplace, rather than some Draconian environment where people are afraid to speak out. One could see high levels of staff turnover and increase the risk of problematic behavior.

The Delegating Leader

When most employees start working for a company, they want to see what they can do, and how they can help. Yes, there are some who will only ever do the bare minimum, but for most, they see being involved and as a way to raise their profile, make themselves more likely to get promoted or awarded a bonus, or just to add talking points to their appraisal or CV.

A leader willing to delegate must be willing to give up some of their responsibility and roles and hand them off to the people that have proven themselves capable. To ensure a smooth handover, the leader will need to set goals or metrics to ensure the tasks are being done properly and have regular catch-up meetings, even five minutes a week, to answer any questions or to discuss better/different ways of doing things.

As the leader delegates, others in the company will see this as a way to encourage others to step up – while leaders must ensure it isn’t just a matter of people dumping unwanted tasks on others.

The Fun Leader

In some critical roles or environments, fun or humour is clearly inappropriate, yet heart surgeons still crack jokes over the table and japes in nuclear power plants probably happen all the time – it is good for humanity. So, for most businesses, encouraging fun and a sense of humour in the office won’t kill – but will improve the working atmosphere and encourage people to perform.

The recent trend of gamification encourages people to set challenges or goals, be they the usual sales or volume targets, or general ones like punctuality, recycling, swear jars, whatever comes to mind – with rewards or forfeits for the winners/losers. Simply by encouraging people to loosen up, within the boundaries of good taste, will help an office bloom. That’s especially true for a startup or growing business to integrate and welcome younger workers who won’t react well to a strict environment.

A leader who thinks that humour has no place in the workplace will only end up creating a negative environment, where people will be less inclined to stay and work in. Be creative, ensure the business has regular social events. Provide a break from the norm from time-to-time in highly repetitive or regimented environments, and encourage others to suggest ideas to make it a collaborative effort.

Avoid the Traits of a Bad Leader

While all of the positive traits discussed above have their obvious negative counterpoints, there are a few types of leader who exhibit other poor or negative attitudes that can impact the workplace, business efficiency and morale.

Bullies are obvious examples, and from school to retirement homes, there are people who aim to get through life by bullying others. Office bullies are usually easy to spot and can be swiftly escorted from the premises, but leader bullies in a position of power can squash and stifle creativity and innovation, or hire other bullies to join in their “fun.” As a leader, bullying is unacceptable and an abuse of leadership power, and it will come back to bite the bully eventually.

Also damaging to the workplace is a leader intent on collecting power and responsibility for themselves. This might be done unconsciously or considered part of the role, but unlike the delegating leader, it will damage to the business in the long term, especially if that leader is ever ill or decides to leave.

Finally, there’s the leader who just doesn’t lead – who delegates without checking the results. Who fires off commands at random and doesn’t stick to the company’s business plan or objectives. This type of leader can do even more damage, and usually is in a leadership role due to possessing other skills or being senior enough that others think they need to be put in charge.

As any company grows, new leaders and managers need to be trained just as much as the rest of the workforce. With dedicated courses, college training, the offer of MBA courses for serious leadership candidates and other assistance can help people prepare for roles where they are managing others and making decisions, which can come as a shock to bright and well-educated individuals suddenly thrust into a leadership role.