Seven Steps to Becoming an Effective Leader
In this article, I want to cover what I think are the 7 key aspects of an effective leader and the steps you can take to become a great leader.
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Leading others is not an easy task, in fact it’s quite hard if you care enough to try to do it the right way. Effective leaders aren’t born, they’re made, no matter what anyone else tells you. There are things you can (and should) learn that’ll help you get there… all it takes is for you to want to do it.
This is specially relevant for newly minted leaders, because it’s hard to find companies that present the new role with an associated training program. These people are left alone to figure out how to lead others, and that is a process that not everyone undergoes in the same way or time.
In this article, I want to cover what I think are the 7 key aspects of an effective leader and the steps you can take to get there.
Of course, the word “effective” by itself is already a problem, since it’s open to interpretation in the way I’m using it.
So, let me first define what I mean by “effective” and then we can go into the list.
Effective leaders to me (and hopefully to most of you as well) are those who can get people to follow them, not blindly, mind you. But people usually tend to stand with them and hold to their ideals, not because they have to, but because they believe in them, because they think alike and feel they represent them fairly. In essence, there is a sense of loyalty generated towards these leaders.
If you think about it, it’s not about what they do, but rather, about the type of effect these people have in others.
So with this in mind, let’s dive into what I think are 7 steps you can take to becoming an “effective” leader.
Step 1: Lead by Example
To start with, I feel like this is one of the most important things you can do. If you’re going to be asking people to do things for you (be it solve a problem, jump 10 feet (?) or eat an ant, what? it happened to me once!) you need to show your team that you understand what you’re asking for.
This is not to say that you should be able to perform every single task you’re asking your team to perform, because that might simply not be possible (and that makes total sense). But what it does mean, though, is that there are certain behaviors you’ll expect from those under your leadership such as something as simple as not drinking while on the job, being on time everyday or even joining calls 5 minutes early, just to be sure you’re never late. Here is where you need to show your teammates that you’re capable of following the same rules they do. And this is because (and you can call this Step 1.5 if you like), you’re also part of the team.
The same rules and the same restrictions that apply to them, must apply to you too, you’re not above the system, you’re just as much a part of it as they are.
Step 2: Take Responsibility for Your Team’s Decisions
Sadly, we’ve all heard it before, the good old “we did great!” and “you failed” might not seem like a big deal, but the strategical removal of one's self from the second expression is used to avoid responsibility for the team’s failures. Something that, if you think about it, as a leader, you’re not supposed to do.
At the core of your job description, there should be a line stating that “you’re directly responsible for both, the success and failure of your team.”
If you’re in a position of leadership, take two minutes and try to remember if you ever said those words. It’s easy to have missed them in the heat of a discussion or when trying to deal with the chaos of a failure. And it is specially easy to say if the person or group of people you’re talking to, actually caused the problem.
We’ve all been there at one point or another, the key here is not to never say it, but rather that once you’ve identified you’re that person, using these phrases, you correct yourself.
The team didn’t fail, you did, all of you, but especially you. There is no spinning it, you need to own up to it, and start working on damage control.
Step 3: Always Keep a Positive Attitude
This might sound like a no-brainer, but again, in the heat of the moment and when things start to go wrong, forgetting this simple step is too easy.
And even though the positive attitude should be maintained throughout the entire duration of your project, doing so during the darkest times is critical. Pointing fingers, being moody, ignoring teammates because they’re making your life harder is definitely the wrong way to go.
Hate tends to breed more hate and positivity does the opposite, it helps keep your teammates in a good mood, and happy people usually have an easier time concentrating and staying on track.
Step 4: Trust, Both in Yourself and in Your Team
One big issue when leading a team for the first time (heck, or the first few times) is trusting your own judgment. Trusting that you’re making the right decision and not looking like a fool in front of everyone, it’s not easy. Impostor syndrome is big here, feeling you’re not ready to lead your team, filled with more capable professionals, what are you doing there? Who made that terrible decision?
So Step 4 is about learning to trust your own instincts by trusting your team. If you’ve followed the previous steps, you understand by now that you’re part of a team, not under it or above it. That should also come with the understanding that trusting them and asking them for advice would not mean showing weakness in front of them.
In fact, asking them for advice in the face of a critical decision will show you trust them enough to hear and consider what they have to say. I tend to prefer leaders with an open mind to criticism by their own team, these people can find solutions outside of the proverbial box, simply because they considered the opinion of someone with a different point of view.
Step 5: Look for Opportunities for Growth for Your Team
This goes back to you being part of a team, not above it or outside it. You, as their leader, have a very unique position where you can, and should, discuss their expectations about growth. Knowing where they want to go, will allow you to help them get there.
Be it as part of your team, or outside it, helping others grow is also one of the core aspects of your job description.
They’re not there, in your team, to work with you forever, everyone needs to feel they make a change, everyone needs to know their work matters, and professional growth is the ultimate way to show that. If this doesn’t happen, if you keep people stuck in a position simply because they’re giving you the outcome you need, they’ll burn out, they’ll eventually leave you and, probably, the company as well, and that loss will be on you.
You can probably see how this also relates to having a positive environment for everyone to work in. Step 3 was a more direct reflection on your day-to-day actions and how to deal with your teammates, but this also helps towards achieving that goal. Leaders that cares for and are interested in the growth of their teammates tend to gain their respect and loyalty.
Step 6: Delegate Already!
This step is quite important as well, it may not be directly related to your team, but it ties right into taking care of your mental health.
Usually people who are promoted into a leadership role tend to take on all the responsibilities associated with that new position, but forget about the “benefits” the change brings. One of them being that they now should not be doing their old tasks. This one is the toughest ones, since it’s very tempting to think it’s easier to do it by themselves than ask others who might not fully understand the priority behind the task, or maybe they don’t even know how to perform it.
It’s hard, but they need to delegate to and educate their teammates on how to perform the task (if required) and then trust that person will perform as expected (see how I went all the way back to Step 4?).
Doing this will help leaders focus on their actual task, instead of trying to do everything by themselves and failing at it (because they will, they now have other responsibilities and distractions that will probably prevent them from functioning like before).
Step 7: Finally, Embrace Chaos
The final step, and what I consider to be generally useful advise, is to embrace the chaos that leading a group of people might entail.
No matter how many rules you put in place and how many standards you set, the truth of the matter is people are unpredictable and sometimes they’ll surprise you (both in the good and bad sense of that word). If you expect them to behave like machines and you treat them as such, then you will not enjoy the process and they will fight it (as they should!).
Just accept this fact and treat your team like a group of human beings, each one of them will bring the best of them to the table, but they will also bring their baggage. And this is not to say you should turn into the psychologist of the group, what I mean is that you should understand that fact, and treat them accordingly.
That is it for today, there are definitely a lot of other aspects of leading teams that I haven’t covered in this article, but I wanted to focus on personal and team related ones, since, in the end, you’re dealing with people and that should be (in my opinion at least), your main focus.
Just remember, if you’re unhappy with your current leader, they might be new to that role and might be trying their best to deal with tasks they’ve never done, without anyone to guide them through the process. Be nice, try to explain to them how you’d like to be lead, that might just be what they need.
Let me know your thoughts, and if you feel I left an important one out of the list, share it in the comments section!
See you in the next one!
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