Leadership is hard. There are no shortcuts. In fact, you’ll never be a good enough leader. None of us will. It’s a constantly evolving, constantly moving goalpost. And that’s a good thing. It keeps us on our toes, causes us to constantly evaluate ourselves, and more than anything keeps us hungry so that we can avoid the complacency trap that befalls so many of us. All of that said, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t some things that we can’t put into play right away to make us better leaders; the type of leaders that our teams need and that we should always aspire to be. So, without further ado, here are 10 Easy Ways to be a Better Leader
1. Ask Your Team Members What Their Future Goals are
As a leader, job number 1 is not to build your own reputation and profile. It’s not to get to the next big job title with the fancy business card. It’s not to get the big raise. It’s to develop people. The better the people on your team are, the better your organization is and the more success they’ll find.
The key to developing people is to know what they want to do with their careers and lives from a goal perspective so that you can help develop them in a way that will see them achieve those goals. Doing this will build motivation in these individuals, and that of course will benefit your team.
If someone on your team has goals outside of your team, what do you do? Help them achieve those too. Keeping someone in your team against their will is not a recipe for success, and will have pretty significant drawbacks. They win, you win. Adhere to that motto, and you’ll always be in a good spot.
2. Take a Genuine Interest in Your Team Members as People
We are not our work. If we do things right, we’re known by our work ethic, but that’s where it should end. We cannot let our jobs define us as people. The same goes for the people on your team. They’re not their job or role within the team. They’re individuals and you must take a real interest in who they are. This builds trust and rapport within your teams and will have a hugely beneficial impact on communication.
Most likely, you won’t be in this job forever. You must learn to treasure people and relationships above the work. In a sense, collect them. They are a real form of wealth in a professional setting. Taking an interest in people is obviously key to doing this. In my case, I’m lucky that so many colleagues have become close personal friends. Those relationships played significant roles in my life when I needed them the most. Autocratic leaders miss out on the true pleasure of leadership that relationships make up, and it shows in the manner and output of their work.
3. Make Communication More Frequent but Informal
If a team is struggling from poor leadership, it will usually most evidently show up in the way the team communicates. With communication, frequency builds comfort, and keeping it informal builds trust. Long, formal communications that are few and far between (or even frequent for that matter) don’t encourage your team members to share things as they come up. It actually may even cause them to hide the truth. Plus, when communication from you is infrequent, your team members are going to be wondering what exactly it is that you do all day. It’s hard to build relationships when that’s going on. One added benefit of infrequent communication is that it allows personality to come out more which is crucial in developing the rapport and trust that you need.
4. Publicly Praise
Show some team members some love. It’s that simple. Expressing a genuine appreciation within groups not only shows people you respect them, but encourages them to repeat those behavior patters. It’s also a great way to illustrate the type of behaviors from your team members that they need to see.
Notice that you’ll never hear us say to have negative conversations in public. Nothing is to be gained from those. Praise, however, when earned, is a must within groups. Don’t overdo it so that it lacks any significance. Reserve it for when it’s truly earned. The motivational burst that this provides this team member will power them for quite some time.
I spent several years working for a CEO who didn’t utter a signal nice word to anyone in the company, while showering the negative praise in very a very public and personal fashion. It’s no surprise that the company did not succeed, and soon employees stopped caring what he thought. Treat people well and they’ll treat you well. Not so hard, is it?
5. Deliver Feedback Honestly and Directly, but with Purpose
Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. Your job as a leader is to help them learn from those mistakes so that they develop (see point #1). Instead of punishing or humiliating them, work with them, not against them. Help them understand what went wrong and why. This is the route that will yield success.
As I mentioned in the last point, I’ve worked for CEOs that delivered public, humiliating, and harsh feedback. It left people so desperate to avoid that public beating that their businesses actually suffered even more because they were so inwardly focused instead of paying attention to the strategic needs of their business. Of course, more negative feedback came. Bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you deliver feedback in a fair, but direct manner, people will work twice as hard for you and your team. No one does their best work with a gun to their head.
6. Office Hours Over 1:1 – Daily if Possible
I’ve never found 1:1 meetings to be beneficial. It took me quite some time to realize this, but they’re stuffy and overly structured. More significantly, they’re not timely. Waiting for a once per week or once every two week sessions to go over important details seems really inefficient.
For that reason, I’ve found that an office hours approach, ideally with a chunk daily, allows people to come to you more easily with the time sensitive issues they encounter. Providing feedback right away keeps the machine running smoothly.
7. Block Off Free Hours on Your Calendar
If you want to be an effective and capable leader, you yourself must be fresh and able to think. With seemingly endless meetings, it can be tough to think strategically about your team. It’s important to block off time each day, or at least a few times per week, to think strategically about your team with out distraction. Think critically about what your business and team need to succeed. Don’t leave yourself out either. Exploring where you’re doing well and where you need to improve is a vital part of your development. I’m continually amazed at how many leaders go years without self-reflecting. It’s such a waste of valuable time, as they’ve never allowed themselves to be the leaders they are capable of being.
8. Ask Yourself What Each Person on Your Team Needs Most and Serve them
Just as we said in point #1, your job as a leader is to develop people. You’ve got to be in tune with their future development. One way that I’ve found to better serve their development is to keep a roster of my team members and the single biggest area that they need to develop. From there, it’s simple. I do whatever I can to help them develop in this area.
Perhaps they need a strong word. Give it to them. Maybe it’s a piece of software they’re struggling with. Work through it with them and help them get help that they can use. Plenty of folks are fearful of presentations. Give them chances to present in low-risk environments and work to develop presentation skills so they can present to increasingly significant groups.
The point is that by focusing on a single point of development, you will help them get where they need to be. A three or five or seven point list of areas for development is simply too much to digest. Knock things out one at a time with relentless focus.
9. Give Each Team Member a Single Development Goal
Just as you’re serving your team by working with them on a single developmental goal, these team members need to work toward these goals themselves, attacking the problem from the other side. The key is to not give people too much. Once that happens, they get lost in complexities and are overwhelmed. Just use a single item so that people can process. Use frequent, but informal checks to see how this development is coming.
10. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
We’ve all worked for gung-ho bosses. It’s not fun. Whether they’re all about work or simply take themselves too seriously, it doesn’t create an environment that serves team members well. Your team is made up of people. Have some fun with them. Joke within reason. Make fun of yourself when it’s warranted.
The best team I was on would give me a healthy dose of grief every now and then. Yet it meant they respected me more. I appreciated them for it, and I loved that they were comfortable doing that. Find ways to incorporate outside life into work discussion. It doesn’t have to be a forced mixer or dinner. Those stink. But informal recognition of people outside of the office can create an environment of motivated people that care about each other. Every Monday, one of the teams I was on would go around the room as each person listed off their best and worst part of the weekend. It was a great way to get to know each other, a time to hear some lighthearted and funny stories, and a key way to develop personal connection that leaders need to have with their teams.
There you have it. 10 easy ways to be a better leader immediately. None of them take much time, and none of them require any real or natural talent. But they all add up and will get you much closer to where you need to be as a leader.