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What makes an effective leader?

Effective leadership is a key element in almost every successful business. Good leaders help a group achieve its goals. They enable a company to move forward. They motivate and inspire employees. They keep a business or group organized and running smoothly.

Many people believe effective leaders are born, not made. But while there are some born leaders, many more have honed their leadership skills through extensive practice to become effective leaders. This article will examine what you can do to become a more effective leader.

Be prepared for commitment
Effective leadership is much more than simply giving assignments and direction. It requires vision, collaboration, planning and practice. And this all takes time and a lot of hard work. If you aren't one of those "born" leaders, be prepared for a serious commitment to honing your leadership skills.

Assess your personal strengths and weaknesses
A good leader knows what he or she is good at, and also what he or she is not so good at. Knowing these strengths and weaknesses will help you delegate responsibility accordingly, hire people who complement you, and know what areas you need to work on to become a better leader.

Learn how people perceive you
Good leaders have a thorough understanding of how they're perceived. This knowledge will make you better able to communicate with employees, as well as understand what qualities you need to work on to manage more effectively. For example, if you are known as being a bit too harsh, you can work on your tone of voice and use more praise. It is often hard to know how employees perceive you, so try to observe them closely or ask them in a nonthreatening way such as, "If you had to name my best and worst qualities, what would they be?" An anonymous comment box might also elicit the information you need.

Know the traits the group values in a leader
There is no one-size-fits-all leader. To be an effective leader for a certain group, you will need to understand what qualities the group values. Trust? Creativity? Organization? Whatever qualities they value (ones that will also inspire them to work smarter and harder), you should hone. If you don't know the answer to this question, observe your group members or simply ask them what makes a good leader. They will likely appreciate your commitment to their concerns.

Develop a vision and solid goals
Members of a group need to know what they are working toward. Your job as a leader is to work with your employees to set measurable goals with achievable milestones along the way. Your team members should know your vision for the group as a whole and for them as individuals.

Learn and practice your skills
Key leadership skills include communication, team-building, vision and planning, knowing when to take risks, motivating individuals and the group, delegating responsibility, and more. To become a good leader, you will need to practice these skills.

Know the organization
An effective leader knows the purpose and goals of his or her group, the purpose and goals of the overall organization, and the best strategies to achieve these goals. The leader understands not only how his or her group operates, but also how it operates in the context of the entire business. You should know what each department and individual (assuming your business is relatively small) does and how it affects the organization as a whole. You should also understand the external operations of the organization.

Know the industry
You should know the industry trends, major players, marketplace and other relevant information for the industry in which you work.

Make your meetings work
When you call a meeting, you need to know how to make it productive and lead to concrete action. The first step in this process is to set an agenda for the meeting and follow it. End the meeting by clearly outlining the "action items" or important points from the meeting. Follow up the meeting with notes about what happened in the meeting as well as any specific action items and who is responsible for executing them.

Learn to communicate better
A good communicator should not only speak clearly and with confidence, but must also be a good listener. Here are a few tips to speak with confidence and clarity:
* Prepare what you have to say
This includes thoroughly researching your subject manner and outlining your speech.
* Practice
Practice your speech in front of others if possible. It might also be useful to take a public speaking class.
* Know your audience
Tailor what you are going to say to your audience. Make sure you make it clear why this speech matters to them. Also, know what they want out of a speech - do they just want you to hurry up? If so, keep it short.
* Visualize your success
* Make eye contact with your audience
* Act confident, even if you are not
* Look your best
* Be a good listener
Good listeners look for verbal and nonverbal cues from others. It is often an effective strategy to paraphrase what the other person has said to make sure you have understood correctly.

Recognize and encourage employees
One of the biggest motivators for employees is recognition for their good work and encouragement along the way. Motivate your employees to continue with a project, and then praise them as they do good work along the way.

Build your team
An effective leader usually does not, and should not, work alone. He or she should communicate with members of the team, as well as show team members how to work well with each other. All members should be encouraged to participate in the group.

Don't be afraid to innovate and take risks
An organization that does not innovate or take risks is likely to fail in the long run. A good leader will step out of the safety zone for a good idea.

Learn from your mistakes
Leaders slip up. Use your mistakes as a steppingstone for improving your leadership skills.

Exhibit leadership traits
A good leader is usually passionate about the organization and his or her work, exudes confidence in his or her abilities, can organize and make sense of complex situations, maintains high standards and inspires others to do the same, can motivate and inspire employees, and is generally looked up to as a person of vision.

Develop a leadership style that works for your team
"Situational leadership," one of the key management theories, is based on the idea that a leader should choose his style based on the willingness and ability of the group to accomplish its goals. If the group is unwilling and unable, the leader should be extremely hands-on, providing a lot of help, structure, direction and encouragement to the group. If the group is willing but unable, the leader can be more of a coach, providing direction, guidance and inspiration. If the group is willing and able, the leader can be more of a delegator. If the group is unwilling but able, the leader should focus on building relationships and motivating employees. These are merely guidelines. A leader must read the group, understand what it needs to succeed and how to make that happen, and then do it.

Practice makes (close to) perfect
Becoming an effective leader takes practice. Work on your skills. Seek feedback so you can improve. Try new methods when something doesn't work. The more you work on becoming an effective leader, the more likely you are to get there.

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