It’s no secret that strong leadership is required for a company to achieve ambitious and aspirational goals. Increasing the collective capabilities of your leadership team is essential if you want your organization to continue to grow, to capitalize on opportunities, and to respond to an ever-changing and increasingly complex global business environment.
But what exactly is leadership? We all have our personal beliefs and definitions of what defines a great leader. Instead of sharing a pithy definition, let’s instead consider some best practices of an effective leader.
1. Leaders are self-aware
Effective leaders know who they are. They understand their strengths, which they continuously leverage and hone. They also know their shortcomings and can determine which are career limiting and need attention, and which they can overcome by surrounding themselves with colleagues who have the capabilities and skills they lack.
Self-awareness requires personal reflection. For some leaders, reflection requires setting aside time for introspection. Additionally, self-awareness is improved by the willingness to seek and receive feedback, both positive and constructive — from others.
2. Leaders enable the success of others
New leaders are typically given their first leadership role and the responsibilities that come with it, as a result of strong individual performance. As individual contributors, we are rewarded and recognized for personal results. In fact, the importance of individual performance is ingrained in us very early in life; we are rewarded at school for good grades and earn our first promotions at work for individual results.
Successful leaders need to reframe their definition of results. They can no longer equate success with individual achievement, but rather the results of the direct reports, the teams and the organizations they lead. These leaders enable the success of others by setting direction, coaching and mentoring.
3. Delegate work to develop others
One of the most powerful levers a leader has is delegation. Delegation has two important benefits. First, it provides development opportunities for those to whom work is being delegated. It challenges employees to develop new skills and capabilities — both functional and interpersonal. The second benefit of delegation is that it relieves the leader of tasks that others can perform, thereby creating time for them to take on new challenges and responsibilities and develop their own skills and capabilities.
The inability to delegate can be career limiting to a leader. Without effective delegation, the leader remains stuck in the same work day-after-day, year-after-year, depriving them of the time needed for development and more strategic activities.
4. Leaders ask questions
As leaders, we often believe that we need to provide all the knowledge and answers for our organizations. The effective leader, however, understands the importance and power of asking questions. The practice of asking questions — also known as inquiry — is powerful for a variety of reasons. First, it is an inclusion activity. It involves others and creates ownership by asking them for their opinions and points-of-view on a topic. And it can provide a diversity of perspectives, ideas and opinions, taking advantage of others’ experience and expertise. Inquiry is also a useful tool in assessing the judgment, experience and communication skills of the leader’s direct reports. This, in turn, allows the leader to determine the development needs of one’s employees and their readiness for more challenging assignments and responsibilities.
5. Leaders communicate, communicate and communicate some more
Great leaders are great communicators. They understand the need to:
- communicate a variety of messages to their organizations
- communicate using a variety of methods
- communicate frequently
Effective communicators understand that the topic of their messages is important and should vary according to the situation. They consider a broad spectrum of topics including the organization’s strategy, what's happening in the business and marketplace, how the team is performing, and the goals of the business.
Effective communicators vary the forums in which they communicate. They use strategic off-sites, staff meetings, one-on-one discussions, group emails, and social media to vary their communication depending on the topic and the audience.
And effective communicators communicate frequently. They understand that some messages are not heard the first time, and they understand the importance of reinforcing and repeating their messages.
Leadership can be as unique as our individual DNA. However, these best practices can help a leader improve and strengthen his or her capabilities and effectiveness, enabling the broader organization to achieve the goals it aspires to.