There's more to leadership than having a high-ranking title and being in charge of a team. You might have the authority to tell people what to do, but if you're an ineffective leader, you won't be able to guide and motivate your staff to accomplish their goals.
"I think a great leader is one who makes those around him/her better. There are many litmus tests for a great leader, but I really look to those around them," said Dana Brownlee, founder of Professionalism Matters. "Are they growing, becoming better leaders themselves, motivated, etc.?"
According to Brownlee, if you have engaged in the following behaviors, it's possible you're showing signs of being a weak leader:
- No one on your team has criticized one of your ideas in the past month.
- You spend more time planning your own career progression than planning that of your team members.
- You haven't had at least three completely non-work related conversations with a team member weekly.
- Different team members would provide different answers if asked your top three priorities for the year.
- Team members are afraid to fail.
Business News Daily asked CEOs, managers and leadership experts for their best advice on becoming a better leader. Here's what they had to say.
1. Connect and communicate
Leading a group of people requires a mutual sense of trust and understanding between the leader and the team members. As a first step toward that goal, leaders should learn to connect. Terry "Starbucker" St. Marie, a leadership writer and consultant, said that being what he calls a "more human" leader requires positivity, purpose, empathy, compassion, humility and love. These key traits will put you on the road to genuine connections with the members of your team.
"Building a real personal connection with your teammates is vital to developing the shared trust necessary to build a strong culture of accountability and exceptional performance," St. Marie said. "With that culture in place, the team can achieve a successful business, a happy team and a fulfilled leader."
"I think the best leaders communicate often and are transparent (which is rare). The best leaders also customize communications to best suit the situation and the recipient," Brownlee said. "This means they take the time to figure out which communication mode is preferred by each team member (e.g. are they a text person, email, phone, or face to face?) They're also great listeners and are authentically interested in other people."
Ruslan Fazlyev, CEO and founder of e-commerce solutions provider Ecwid, said that in all your communications, it's important to be genuine above all else.
"There are many leadership styles; there's no right and wrong," Fazlyev said. "But there's genuine, and there's fake. There's no following to fake leadership." [What kind of leader are you? Take a look at these different traits, skills and styles.]
2. Know your team
Once you've mastered the art of communicating and connecting with your team members, you can really get to know them — who they are, what they're interested in and what their talents are.
"You can know your mission and vision, but it is equally, if not more, important to know your people," said Joe Nolan, CEO of Motus Global, a company that provides biomechanical analysis for athletes. "If you care about and take care of your people, they will take care of your customers, and ultimately, you will accomplish your mission."
"A good leader knows his or her team better than anyone else — their strong skills and how they can be leveraged, as well as their weaknesses," added Alexander Negrash, director of marketing at cloud backup and storage solutions company CloudBerry Lab.
3. Encourage creativity
If you want your staff to do their best work, you need to give them the freedom to brainstorm and explore, Negrash said. Be open to your team's ideas and suggestions, and be ready to consider them and possibly develop them further.
"A good leader also gives the team new challenges, preventing them from becoming bored and complacent while showing confidence in their potential," Negrash added.
4. Focus on the positives
As much as leaders wish that their team's day-to-day operations could run smoothly all the time, they're bound to run into the occasional obstacle. Whether it's a minor miscommunication or a major error, the way a leader handles a negative situation says a lot about his or her leadership skills. Robert Mann, author of "The Measure of a Leader" (iUniverse, 2013), recommended focusing on the good in any set of circumstances.
"Look at three positive things about a problem before you identify what makes it dissatisfying," Mann said. "The more you look at the positives in a problem, the more positively people react with one another."
In his research, Mann has found that, after individuals point out things they're happy with in a problematic situation, they don't feel so strongly about the problem and are better able to think clearly and solve it. The same is true when a leader needs to improve his or her strategy. If you or a team member notices a particular course of action you've taken that just isn't working, figure out some things you've done in the past that have worked.
Similarly, Peter Fuda, author of "Leadership Transformed" (New Harvest, 2013), said that leaders can learn to focus on the positive by shifting from "critic" to "cheerleader" of their teams.
"This strategy involves moving from a focus on what is going wrong to what is going right," Fuda said. "Shining a light on issues and problems is an important part of transformation, but it must not become a leader's default setting. An important mantra I have shared with almost every leader I have met is, 'Don't let perfect get in the way of better.'"
5. Show, don't tell
An effective leader knows how to show others what is required, rather than simply telling them. Luke Iorio, president and CEO of the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC), said leaders should coach their team members toward a more collaborative, committed work environment — without coaxing them.
"[If you are] controlling people to do certain things in certain ways, you're not going to get the level of engagement that you're looking for," Iorio said. "Coaching is about helping the people you lead recognize the choices they have in front of them. People will [then] take a great deal of ownership over the direction of the project."
6. Be direct
Taso Du Val, CEO and founder of Toptal freelance talent network, said direct, honest feedback — even if it's criticism — is the best way to guide your team in the right direction. You also need to know exactly where your business is headed, so you can give them the right advice.
"If you're not direct, people won't know what you truly think about them and their work, and they will never be able to improve," Du Val said. "If you don't know the precise direction your company is headed, no matter how much you've communicated to your employees and leadership team regarding their individual performance, they will flounder when it comes to making decisions and taking actions. Once those basic principles are in place, deadlines, regular product plans, performance reviews, structure and processes can easily be put into place."
"Always share constructive feedback about anything that the team or each team player does," Negrash added. "Positive feedback is as important as negative, and a good leader strives for balance."
7. Ask for feedback
Your team members aren't the only ones who can benefit from honest feedback. A true self-assessment of your own leadership can be difficult, so mentors, fellow professionals and even your own staff are invaluable in evaluating your effectiveness. According to St. Marie, talking to friends and peers often brings needed perspective on your leadership approach and style. Leadership coaching can also help you discover areas that need improvement. A professional who helps you develop a plan to achieve your leadership goals can be more motivational than books and seminars alone.
"Coaching allows leaders to make the connection and apply [changes] in a real-life setting," Iorio said. "You need time to integrate, process and reflect, and unless you go through those steps, you won't have sustainable change."
Fazlyev agreed, noting that your team can give you critical insight into what's working, what's not working and obstructions to success.
8. Understand your own motivation
If a person in a leadership position views his or her role as "just a job," it's going to show. To be an effective leader, you need to have the right motivation. Is it the money or the prestige you care about, or do you sincerely want to inspire people to do their best? St. Marie advised leaders to really ask themselves why they want to lead.
"I look at leadership as an honor and a vocation," he told Business News Daily. "If, in your heart, you feel leadership is your destiny and how you'll make a difference in this world, then you are certainly starting from the right place."
Additional reporting by Shannon Gausepohl. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.