A successful leader understands the value of building a strong team. In fact, ETR Editor Craig Ballantyne wrote about this critical managerial philosophy recently, highlighting some personal milestones.
Simply put, being a leader requires confidence, excellent communication, and an understanding of how best to align employee needs with company culture. This can be remarkably challenging—especially with a very diverse workforce—but should be a top priority for any CEO/manager.
While many media sources pore over the credentials and experience of big-time CEOs to find a “success equation” (according to Forbes, the average CEO is 57 years old, boasts an engineering degree, and likely graduated from a prestigious Ivy League school), this doesn’t necessarily equate to good leadership.
What DOES make a good leader? Outside of classic training, here are a few important guideposts—mostly rooted in soft skills—every CEO and manager should keep in mind when leading a team to success:
1. Be Authentic
You would be surprised how well employees can discern a genuine leader from one who puts on a mask to hide their true intentions. In most cases, it is less likely for an employee to stay dedicated to a company if management is emotionally disconnected or notably inauthentic.
Keep in mind that authenticity does not mean sharing unnecessarily personal information. It means modeling the behavior and communication you want your team to use in their work life.
Also be aware that there’s never an “off-the-clock” moment for CEOs and managers. Whatever the setting—a work meeting, a golf game with a client, or the company Christmas party—employees will model your behavior. If you are authentic, your employees are more likely to be authentic.
2. Empower Your Team
A true leader is not insecure when an employee demonstrates profound skills, exceptional performance, or remarkable achievement. To the contrary, an effective leader acknowledges these positives and positions his or her team to accomplish more based on notable skills.
Remember: A team that believes their own hard work is valued by the organization will be more productive. Here is a list of ways to accomplish this goal:
- Ensure all employees have professional business cards—from the sales rep to the front desk receptionist.
- Make use of employee reward programs to recognize hard work. These can be as simple as a point system for sales (redeemable for extra time off or bonuses).
- Organize departmental activities that encourage teamwork and corporate networking.
- Regularly touch base with employees. This gives them a forum for voicing concerns and feedback.
Simply put, being a leader requires confidence, excellent communication, and an understanding of how best to align employee needs with company culture.
3. Nurture Your Reputation
You expect your team to work at a high level and always be professional. Believe it or not, employees have the same expectation of you. It’s that civic cliché at work in business: No one is above the law. In short: Be the model of professionalism.
But also be aware of what casual and regular engagement can do for you. Build relationships by engaging in conversations with employees. Share your own goals and struggles. Your own humility and resilience around work objectives will put employees at ease about their own struggles, while also encouraging them to work harder to find solutions to persistent problems.
Lastly, communicate to the company at large what you’re doing to further company growth and company culture. Let your employees know that they are integral to corporate success, and highlight the ways that is evident.
5. Improve Employee Engagement
We’ve already touched on how CEOs and managers can best work with their teams.
But what about the employees themselves? The act of team building and creating a positive company culture is the best way to show employees that their managers have their best interest in mind—while also encouraging work efficiency.
The goal here is twofold. First, you’re fostering relationships that make productivity and communication easier. But you’re also offering value to employees you want to retain by recognizing there’s more to life than work—and giving them a fun experience.
This inter-employee engagement can start with simply Friday lunches with the team, and extend to trips, fun days, and volunteer activities. Here are a few ideas:
- Golf (or fun sports) competitions once a year
- Contests for a winning product idea
- A culturally diverse day with food and performances
- Mentorship programs, encouraging employees to volunteer as mentors to students
6. Drop Micro-Management
Most employees feel valued when management structures a work environment of independence. Why? Because it shows that managers trust that employees are invested in both their personal success and the company’s success.
The feeling of a leader micro-managing can be incredibly stressful—and a hinderance to productivity. This is the biggest difference between a hands-on-manager and a micromanager. Micro-management can result in employees feeling animosity toward or distrust of their superiors. Hands-on management, on the other hand, demonstrates attentiveness without the feeling of being overbearing.
As a manager, discuss achievable goals for employees and offer resources that will help them achieve those goals. But be sure to give them the time to achieve their goals—without over-the-shoulder input.
7. Be Present
A distant and unapproachable leader will win no battles in the corporate world. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, employees would rather flounder than ask for direction because management is disinterested or, worse yet, hostile towards them. This can mean the company’s doom, especially if important projects hinge on employee productivity.
Second, a manager who is absent in bad times but present in the good times loses employee respect. As a model for workplace behavior, the manager may “inspire” employees to adopt the same approach to their work life.
On the other hand, if a manager is present in both good times and bad and is willing to dive into the trenches to help, he or she earns the respect of those under them. Employees will be more likely to work harder in busy times if you, as their leader, do the same.
8. Say Thank You
This might be one of the most important ways to create team loyalty. The simple act of gratitude goes a long way toward fostering a positive, productive work environment. And how long does it take to say “thank you”?