7 Leadership Skills that Will Make You a Better Leader This Week
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Then and Now...
Over the last 5 years how have you grown as a leader? What would you tell past you to do differently? Where have you improved and where do you still need improvement? Leadership, like any other skill, requires continual refinement. The world, your industry, and your workforce have changed, has your leadership?
In my 10+ years as an executive coach I've helped a number of leaders develop their leadership skills. I've noticed that there are a cluster of specific leadership skills that I usually have to work with leaders to develop or hone. Leadership comes more naturally to some than to others but becoming a better leader requires picking up new skills and honing current skills.
If you want to be one of the best and more promotable leaders in your organization you will have to grow, mature, and become more effective. You will have to adapt to a rapidly changing workforce and broader industry. The skills I discuss here and that you read about in other places should be seen as focus areas for your ongoing development.
Making Lasting Change
Any one of these skills can make you more effective this week, but if you are looking for lasting change and improvement take it a bit more slowly. If you implement just one of these leadership skills this week you will be a better leader. I would recommend that you focus on one of these skills for a week or 2 to get comfortable with it and then move on to the next skill.
Leadership Skill 1
When you think about leadership you probably don't think about listening, at least it's probably not the first skill you would mention, right? You aren't alone. I've heard from leaders I've coached that they feel they have to have answers to prove their value to the team. I've also had team members share that they didn't think their leader(s) listened to them.
Listening is a key leadership skill for leaders at all levels. It can be argued that the higher you climb the corporate ladder the more you need to listen. The problem is we often think we are much better listeners than we really are. Often our conversations are just us waiting for the other person to take a breath so we can say what we want to say.
There are many benefits to being a great listener. Listening demonstrates humility, provides team members the opportunity to contribute and demonstrate value. People also think you are smarter than you may be or more informed when you listen intently.
I once had a boss who wouldn't say anything in a meeting or his remarks would be very short. He would listen very intently and people perceived him as wise. Perhaps his wisdom lied in keeping his mouth shut so that people could solve their own problems.
Leadership Skill 2
DEALING WITH CONFLICT
There's no way around it, you will have to deal with conflict.
Conflict is a natural part of team development. But most leaders avoid it because they aren't comfortable with conflict. Great leaders don't avoid conflict, they anticipate it. They prepare their teams for it and they deal with conflict when it inevitably occurs. Therefore you have to deal with conflict on your team.
In my 2-day course on Healthy Conflict I discuss the types of conflict and provide different methods for conflict resolution. Conflict can and will occur on your team for any number of reasons from personality conflicts to creative differences to minor slights that have gone unaddressed. Your role is to be on the lookout for conflict and address it when it occurs.
Often mountains are made out of mole hills because leaders think "they're adults, they'll work it out." It's that thinking that has enabled simple slights to fester and become toxic cultures. Start by talking with people who are in conflict or are causing conflict. Don't dismiss bad behavior, address it and set a higher expectation.
Great leaders don't avoid conflict, they anticipate it.
Leadership Skill 3
SETTING THE TONE
You set the tone collaborative or contentious. Choose wisely.
Every team has a vibe, a culture, or a feeling. It's the team's culture. You can tell if they are loose and having fun or if they are uptight and stressed. You can tell if they are focused and strictly business. Here's the thing, you set that tone. You are responsible for your team's culture and morale.
Your assignment should you choose to accept it is to ensure that your team environment stays conducive to high performance and good morale. This is related to but not synonymous with handling conflict. While handling conflict is necessary, how do you drive performance when things are going well?
If you don't pay attention to this element of team dynamics or you feel it's not your responsibility team morale will suffer. Remember high-performing cultures don't just happen, they are planned and cultivated.
As the leader you set the tone: collaborative or contentious. Choose wisely.
Leadership Skill 4
Accountability is helping people succeed rather than placing blame after a fail.
This is one of my favorite topics and leadership skills because of the near immediate impact increased accountability can have. In my coaching experience this has been one of the few areas that can quickly change a team. Accountability is a game-changer, but too often leaders are trying to keep the peace when they need to hit their targets. Accountability, when done right, isn't heavy-handed shame and blame tactics, it's consistently helping your team members succeed.
Leadership Skill 5
A recent Gallup poll on employee engagement showed that the highest levels of employee engagement across industries was 34%! Yikes that's the highest?! I can't tell you how many times I've heard leaders say they didn't need to motivate their team because "they are adults and this is what they get paid to do." This is an outmoded notion from a long-gone workplace. Honestly, people have always wanted a pat on the back or acknowledgement of a job well done.
In today's workforce with 4 generations working side-by-side you can see the need for individual and team motivational strategies in living color. Motivated people are engaged people. Helping your team see the big picture and understand how their work fits in is just the beginning. Another course we have developed and facilitate on Motivating, Inspiring & Engaging Others provides real world ways to get the best out of your team.
Workplace Motivation: Honestly, people have always wanted a pat on the back or acknowledgement for a job well done.
Leadership Skill 6
When you get tired of communicating a point, your team might have just heard it.
One of my favorite communication quotes is by John Kotter in Leading Change where he says "managers undercommunicate, and often not by a small amount." This is so true. When working with leaders and teams on improving communication I've found that we take clear communication for granted because "we talk all the time." This common misunderstanding just sets us up for trouble down the road.
Think about it this way, when you are tired of repeating yourself, your team might have just heard it for the first time.
Most leaders think that since they said something once or emailed it that it was clearly heard, understood, and in the process of being executed. Reality is often the exact opposite. Your team members probably didn't understand what you said/emailed/texted/IM'd, but won't say anything because they don't want to seem incompetent or stupid. This leads to wasted time, unnecessary rework, additional stress, lowered morale, increased conflict... you get the point.
Leadership Skill 7
Vision is needed at all levels of the organization.
Think Steve Jobs and the original Macintosh team... they were pirates. They were doing what hadn't been done, moved to a separated office and were treated as though they were special, almost as if the future of the company rested on their shoulders. When I teach Leading High Performing Teams, I make it clear that you should have a vision for your team that dovetails into the organizational vision.
Your team is doing something awesome or mundane, but they need to see how it fits into the overall organizational. This is a high-performance hack. Having a vision for your team can galvanize them, motivate them, and help them to perform in ways they didn't know they could.