To me, a leader is someone who inspires by their ability to rally and motivate people. They’re not necessarily managers, although good managers often are good leaders. Leadership is a combination of skills, competencies and knowledge that allow someone to lead teams and achieve common goals.
How then does one become a leader? Some will tell you that it comes naturally; others, that nothing beats experience on the work market. One thing’s for sure, however: leadership can be worked on.
Here are a variety of concrete tips to help you become the leader you want to be.
1. Show Empathy
A leader cares about their team’s well-being and shows empathy. They are understanding when an employee underperforms due to fatigue or has trouble doing their work. They also understand that people's personal lives have an impact at work. Many factors, big and small, can affect an employee’s productivity—insufficient sleep, conflicts at home, financial trouble, etc.
Ask your employees how they are doing and adapt your management methods accordingly. See if you can help someone who appears to need it. Ultimately, your team will know you’re there for them, and that they’re not just numbers to you.
2. Ask for Your Colleagues’ Opinions
True leaders always work with their team. Make it a habit to consult your colleagues. Imagine all the things you’re missing by not having your team weigh in. Your colleagues have a ton of knowledge and experience. Leverage it.
Consulting employees more often will tell them that you acknowledge their skills, and will ultimately result in them being more engaged in their work. Acknowledgement is a great motivator!
3. Say “Thank You” More Often
Acknowledging employees’ work is an important habit to take up to become a leader. Start by thanking them more often. It’s a small gesture that can make a great difference for many.
4. Do It Yourself
What is the difference between a leader and a boss?
A boss merely gives out orders and allocates tasks. A leader guides their team in the pursuit of common goals. They don’t hesitate to roll up their sleeves and join in the work when necessary.
A leader without a team is no leader at all. Put your team front and centre by making sure you’re always there when they need you.
5. Lead by Example
Leaders endeavour to do their best and step up to the plate to reach their goals. If your employees see you always give your 100%, they’ll tend to do the same.
Inspire your team by leading by example, but don’t try to be perfect; to err is human, after all.
6. Keep Your Cool
Feeling anger, stress or restlessness is normal. But if you aspire to be a leader, you must control your emotions. Not doing so can lead to irrational decisions you might come to regret.
For example, if a problematic situation happens, let the dust settle before reacting. There's a reason why they say it's important to “sleep on it.”
7. Learn to Better Communicate
Knowing how to communicate properly is a basic competency of a good leader that helps avoid misunderstandings and foster open conversations. Speaking well also inspires and rallies people.
A good place to start is using the right channels of communication. For example, always meet with employees face-to-face to discuss delicate issues or give critical feedback. Conversely, celebrate successes publicly.
8. Lend an Ear
Knowing how to communicate also means being a good listener. Let employees express themselves without interrupting them. Leave some silences when you relay information so they can speak their mind. Encourage people to share their opinions.
Seek to understand other people's ideas rather than impose your own.
9. Show Openness
A true leader is open to change, other ways of doing things and new ideas, even if they contradict their own methods and ways of thinking.
This point of view will allow you to broaden your horizons. Dare to challenge the status quo.
10. Develop Your Confidence
Shed the imposter syndrome you may sometimes have. Trust in your ability; fully assume your leadership and your role as a manager and a decision maker. This being said, take care not to fall into arrogance.
11. Work on Your Humility
All successes deserve to be celebrated as a team. Acknowledge the efforts of all those who helped you realize a project. A good leader never works alone, and so the merits don’t accrue to them only.
12. Learn to Delegate
Many managers have trouble delegating. However, to be a good leader, you must be able to trust in your team. Pinpoint the strengths of each of your employees and delegate responsibilities accordingly.
Avoid micromanaging. Let your employees show you what they’re made of.
13. Set Your Boundaries
You may be passionate about what you do, but don’t forego drawing a clear line between your work and private lives. To be at your best and lead, you must also take some time off for you and for your close ones. Otherwise, your personal life will be negatively impacted, as will be your focus and efficiency at work.
To be able to focus on tasks that will make you a leader, learn to set your boundaries. Develop your time management skills to respect your limits and avoid overworking yourself.
14. Acknowledge Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Let’s be honest, we all have strengths and weaknesses; nobody is good at everything. Learn yours and act accordingly. This will show you when you need help and which tasks you should delegate.
Work not only on your weaknesses, but especially on your strengths. That way, you’ll truly excel at what you do best.
15. Maintain Your Network
Even if you have been working the same job for a long time and are well-established, keep maintaining your network and meeting new people. A good network of contacts may present you with unforeseen opportunities.
16. Have Fun
Being stressed at work shouldn’t be the norm. Keep in mind that having fun is important. In other words, don’t take yourself too seriously. This will make for a more relaxed atmosphere and relieve some of the pressure. Your colleagues are sure to feel the upsides of a work environment that values fun.
17. Play the Long Game
Have a long-term vision for your team. A true leader sets ambitious but achievable goals. For example, set OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) to align your ambitions with clear and measurable objectives. If everything doesn’t go as planned, identify what didn’t work and try again. Having defined objectives makes it easier to set priorities.
This will allow you to give clear instructions, and therefore reach your goals more easily. Your employees will be motivated by the results.
18. Don’t Give Up After Failing Once
Life is full of unexpected events. You will sometimes make mistakes, or your projects won’t turn out as you had planned. Don’t be discouraged. Be resilient and learn to overcome challenges.
See your mistakes (and those of others) as improvement opportunities; failure is the best way to learn. Besides, remind yourself that nobody achieves great results without stumbling a few times. Don’t be afraid, and don't shy away from trying new things.
19. Surround Yourself with Diverse People
We tend to surround ourselves with people similar to us. This habit, however, does little to expand our horizons.
Make sure you foster diversity in your team. When hiring people, don’t rely on uniform ways of doing things but on common values. Look not only for competencies, but for personality types.
20. Develop and Share Your Knowledge
The best leaders are lifelong learners. Become an expert in your field, but diversify your knowledge as well. Having more than one string to one’s bow always comes in handy.
What good is learning if you don’t share what you learn with your colleagues? A good leader guides their employees and shares their experience with them to stimulate their professional development.
21. Rely on Feedback
Feedback should be crucial to any manager who aspires to be a good leader. By regularly giving your team feedback, you value their work while giving them the means to improve. They’ll develop their skills and feel their work is acknowledged.
But what is good for your team is good for you too. Leaders must be open to feedback as well. We all need it to improve. So, make sure to often ask your employees for comments on your work or your management style, for example.