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Updated Oct 23, 2023

10 Ways to Become a Better Leader

Learn how to be a good leader to improve your team's engagement and success.

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Skye Schooley, Business Operations Insider and Senior Lead Analyst
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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Anyone can sit in a corner office and delegate tasks, but there is more to effective leadership than that. Effective leaders have major impacts on not only the team members they manage, but also their company as a whole. Employees who work under great leaders tend to be happier, more productive and more connected to their organization. And this has a ripple effect that reaches your business’s bottom line. 

Not everyone is a natural-born leader. However, there are strategies you can use to improve your leadership. Similarly, there are a handful of mistakes to avoid if you want to be a good leader.

Assessing whether you’re a good or bad leader

Business News Daily spoke with CEOs, directors and leadership experts to learn what good leadership strategies are and how you can incorporate them in your own organization.

“I think a great leader is one who makes those around them better,” Dana Brownlee, founder of Professionalism Matters, told Business News Daily. “There are many litmus tests for a great leader, but I really look to those around them: Are they growing, becoming better leaders themselves, motivated, etc.?”

If you look around and see your team members have become disengaged or stagnant in their work, it may be time to reassess and reform your strategies. According to Brownlee, the following behaviors are signs you may have a poor leadership strategy:

  • 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 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.

More than half of new leaders fail within their first 18 months. You can avoid becoming part of this staggering statistic by incorporating good leadership strategies that motivate your team members to accomplish their goals.

How to be a good leader

Every leader has their own style, but there are certain characteristics all great leaders share. The below practices are often the hallmarks of a successful leader. 

1. Engage in honest, open communication.

One of the most important elements of effective leadership is creating an open line of communication with your team members. Sanjay Patoliya, founder of Teclogiq and software developer at NextBits Group, said your own honesty and transparency should serve as an example for your team members.

“When you are responsible for a team of people, it is important to be straightforward,” he said. “Your company and its employees are a reflection of yourself, and if you make honest and ethical behavior … a key value, your team will follow.”

Brownlee added that people with effective leadership language are able to customize their interactions and communication styles to suit each situation and team member. “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.”

Listening to your employees and displaying transparency can build trust among your team and boost overall morale. Ruslan Fazlyev, former CEO and founder of e-commerce solutions provider Ecwid and current board member at Seller Labs, said that in all your communications, it’s crucial to be genuine above all else.

“There are many leadership styles; there’s no right and wrong,” he said. “But there’s genuine, and there’s fake. There’s no following to fake leadership.”

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Maintaining honest and straightforward communication inspires your employees to reciprocate. Each team member may have a different communication style, so it’s important to tailor your communication methods to the individual.

2. Connect with your team members.

Leading a group of people requires a mutual sense of trust and understanding between the leader and their team members. To achieve this, leaders should learn to connect.

Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie, a leadership writer and consultant, said that being 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.”

To build a connection with each of your team members, focus on getting to know their personalities, interests, strengths, weaknesses, hobbies and preferences. This can give you insight into their goals and motivations.

Patoliya said successful leaders allow their teams to develop autonomy and add value according to their own personal strengths. “Being able to recognize the strengths of individuals within their team, and allowing them to be responsible and accountable, not only increases employees’ confidence in themselves and their leader, but also increases their performance.”

3. Encourage personal and professional growth.

Acting as your team’s cheerleader is an important part of being an effective leader. You should be invested in their success and growth.

Keri Ohlrich, the CEO of HR consulting company Abbracci Group, said that leaders should set aside a budget, if only a small one, to dedicate to the growth of their employees.

“With options as varied as on-demand, virtual [and] in-person options, there’s ample opportunity to continue learning new skills or further developing existing ones,” she said. “Empower your employees to take the time to learn and infuse that in the work they do.”

In addition to investing in your employees’ growth financially, you should invest emotionally. John Rampton, founder and CEO of the app company Calendar, said that great leaders empower their employees to grow by giving them challenging opportunities and guiding them as needed.

“To motivate and inspire employees, leadership strategy is about empowering others to do their best and take on new challenges,” he said. “Employees like challenges and feeling the satisfaction of overcoming them. Whether it’s a tough client, a difficult sale, a hard situation or whatever the case, it’s always good to let them take on these challenges.”

When leaders believe in their employees and give them the opportunity to learn and grow, they might be surprised at how much they can accomplish. Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks and encourage freedom and creativity.

4. Keep a positive attitude.

As much as leaders wish 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 you handle a negative situation says a lot about your 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. The more you look at the positives in a problem, the more positively people react with one another,” he said.

In his research, Mann 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 their 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.

Patoliya added that focusing on solutions rather than problems can help your team maintain positive engagement. “A positive environment is more likely to create a more engaged and productive workforce. By displaying enthusiasm and confidence, a good leader will see the impact they can have in their working environment,” she said.

5. Teach employees instead of giving orders.

An effective leader knows how to show others what is required rather than simply telling them. Luke Iorio, former president and current partner at 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 you’re looking for,” he 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.”

As opposed to simply barking orders at team members, Rampton said good leaders should encourage growth by teaching. “People wouldn’t grow if leaders never taught them anything. Leaders need to be teaching so they can grow new leaders to take their place.”

6. Set clear employee goals and expectations.

Setting clear goals and employee expectations for your team is key to employee success. When setting these objectives, encourage employee questions and feedback. Including team members in the goal-setting process can increase engagement.

Amish Shah, founder of ALTR Inc., said good leaders will explain the company vision and how team member goals fit into that equation.

“For a leader to motivate and inspire, they need to keep their team in the know about their vision,” he said. “This helps employees understand the end result they’re working towards as a unit. When goals are clearly set, everyone can track progress and identify achievements in a tangible manner.”

Ohlrich also stressed the importance of explaining how these goals impact the organization as a whole. She said that, regardless of seniority level, every employee should be able to articulate how the work they do supports the success of the company.

Don’t let team member goals go static. Periodically revisit objectives to modify or rearrange them as needed. This will let your team members know you are present and aware of what they’re working on.

TipTip
Follow the "SMART" framework when setting goals. Your objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

7. Give direct feedback about performance.

Taso Du Val, co-founder and CEO of the 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 employees 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.”

In addition to providing constructive feedback and performance reviews, highlight employee accomplishments. If a team member does something great, let them know. Celebrate their wins and thank them for their hard work.

“Positive recognition will create an environment of productivity,” said Shah. “Acknowledging successes by outlining how it impacts the business, rather than with vague pats on the back, is not only encouraging, but also helps a person work better in the long run.”

8. Ask for feedback on your leadership.

Your team members aren’t the only ones who can benefit from honest feedback. A true self-assessment of your 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 can give you necessary perspective on your leadership style and approach.

Leadership coaching can also help you discover areas where you 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 what obstructions you must overcome to achieve success.

9. Be open to new ideas.

Good leaders have the emotional intelligence to understand and accept that change is inevitable. Instead of trying to maintain a status quo just for the sake of consistency, embrace change and innovation. Be open to new ideas and alternative ways of thinking. Everyone brings a unique perspective to the table, and that is something to take advantage of, not discourage.

“When you’re open to hearing the thoughts of the talent around you is when you truly embrace every possibility and potential,” said Shah. “See things through till the end. Understand that there will be errors along the way, but if something doesn’t work, try to figure out why and how before scrapping it.”

When solving a problem, encourage team members to provide their insights. When employees feel they can openly bring new ideas to the conversation, true innovation, engagement and success can prevail.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Encourage your employees to share new ideas and perspectives. By doing so, you empower your team to become more innovative and invested in company growth.

10. Understand your own motivation.

If a person in a leadership position views their role as “just a job,” it’s going to show. To be an effective leader, you need 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. 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.”

In addition to what motivates you, Ohlrich said it is vital to know what decreases your energy. “Knowing your strengths and weaknesses help[s] you diversify your team and get a well-rounded portfolio of skills. It helps you not hire carbon copies of yourself and [instead] surround yourself with others who are not like you.”

Your leadership style plays a role in how you interact with employees and should be evaluated as well. There are nine different leadership types, and the best leaders are able to adapt each style to their situations and employees. If you’re currently in a leadership role and aren’t sure where you stand on some of these qualities, you can take a quick leadership self-assessment quiz from the Leading With Courage Network to assess your leadership abilities.

Leadership mistakes to avoid

As you learn how to lead, it’s also essential to understand what not to do. Missteps can hinder a leader and prevent their team from thriving. These are some common leadership mistakes you should steer clear of if you want to be an effective leader: 

  • Micromanaging your employees: Team members need guidance to succeed, but they also need autonomy and permission to make decisions on their own. Micromanaging every task can have a negative impact on performance and morale.
  • Ignoring feedback: Part of demonstrating strong listening skills is showing you take action when an issue is brought to your attention. Disregarding team suggestions or concerns is an easy way to erode trust.
  • Not following through: Sometimes priorities change, but if you’re consistently making promises to your team that you can’t keep, everyone could lose faith in your leadership abilities.
  • Being inconsiderate of team members’ schedules: Last-minute rescheduling needs happen to everyone, especially when you’re managing a team. It’s a problem, though, when leaders are constantly canceling meetings with short notice or assigning projects with tight deadlines.
  • Avoiding accountability: It’s not that good leaders never make any errors – mistakes are inevitable for even the best leaders. What matters most is that you own up to any oversights without blaming other team members and do the work to correct your mishaps. 

Strong leadership takes time and effort

Remember that being a good leader takes time. Although some individuals are naturally inclined to have strong leadership skills, this is something anyone can learn and improve upon. Being aware of what makes a good leader is the first step toward reaching your full potential as a manager. With hard work, dedication and strategic planning, you can lead your team to success.

Natalie Hamingson and Nicole Fallon contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article. 

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Skye Schooley, Business Operations Insider and Senior Lead Analyst
Skye Schooley is a business expert with a passion for all things human resources and digital marketing. She's spent 10 years working with clients on employee recruitment and customer acquisition, ensuring companies and small business owners are equipped with the information they need to find the right talent and market their services. In recent years, Schooley has largely focused on analyzing HR software products and other human resources solutions to lead businesses to the right tools for managing personnel responsibilities and maintaining strong company cultures. Schooley, who holds a degree in business communications, excels at breaking down complex topics into reader-friendly guides and enjoys interviewing business consultants for new insights. Her work has appeared in a variety of formats, including long-form videos, YouTube Shorts and newsletter segments.
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