Being a leader is not about your job title or years of experience. It’s a mentality. It’s also the way you work and carry yourself. A leader is also a coach, a decision maker and a visionary.
The way leaders behave and treat employees on their teams directly impacts company culture, employee engagement, and a company’s ability to retain and attract talent.
Our Talent Trends 2022 The Great X report found that leadership was rated the no. 5 factor that influences candidates’ decisions on where to work – after remuneration, company cultures and values, office location and promotion. It is a trait that employers often undervalue compared to employees.
Not everyone is a born leader; like any expertise, leadership skills can be learned and honed. It is essential to know that a leader's effectiveness is also dependent on the amount of influence and support you get from people in your team.
You should never assume that people you work with would automatically follow your lead and respect your decisions just because you are in a leadership role. Your immediate supervisor already has your back because they hired you. You need to win over your peers, direct reports and the wider team members.
Whether stepping into a leadership position from an individual contributor role or looking to progress in your career, here are 11 leadership qualities, characteristics and traits you can adopt.
1. Acknowledge, appreciate and give credit
Great leaders publicly express appreciation and acknowledge their team for their contributions. When you show appreciation for team members’ contributions and provide positive feedback, you help encourage a positive work environment.
To inspire employees to give their best, they need to know that they are on the right track, and that their work will be valued and appreciated. Find ways to celebrate your team’s achievements, even through a simple “well done”.
Do it consistently and deliberately. Praises for minor reasons, and frequent praises can come across as insincere and even demotivate others.
Related: A culture of employee recognition contributes to retention
2. Active listening
After resigning in 1985, the late Steve Jobs said he returned to Apple as a humbled and better leader – and former Apple CEO John Scully credited much of this to his newfound ability to listen.
While setting ground rules or implementing new approaches to various work processes is essential, taking a step back and listening to your team is also highly crucial. A good leader must stay attuned to what is going on with their team and company to make informed decisions.
To be a great leader is to be a great communicator – and great communicators listen. Good leaders are proactive and intuitive listeners. To be an active listener, you must never interject or interrupt, always maintain eye contact, and use visual cues like nodding to show you genuinely listen. Employees want to feel listened to, not patronised or, even worse, ignored.
Related: How to manage performance reviews during the COVID-19 pandemic
3. Communicate effectively
Communicating clearly, concisely and tactfully is a crucial leadership skill. Communication involves more than just listening attentively to others and responding appropriately.
It also includes sharing valuable information, asking intelligent questions, soliciting input and new ideas, clarifying misunderstandings, and being clear about what you want. The best leaders also communicate to inspire confidence, drive motivation and energise their employees.
Related: How to resolve workplace conflicts: A guide for managers
4. Show commitment
No one likes to work for a non-committed leader or in a non-committed team. Your commitment as a leader can help foster team spirit that will differentiate an outstanding team from a mediocre one. A committed leader is more likely to gain their team’s trust. Importantly, showing commitment keeps team morale high.
5. Embrace failure
Failure is part of success, and good leaders don’t shy away from failure – they use it as an opportunity for growth. Whether it’s a personal setback or a challenge within your team, understanding moments of failure is helpful as it encourages your team to improve and innovate.
Encourage your team to embrace failure by publicly acknowledging your setbacks and sharing how you grew from every situation.
6. Invest in your team’s future
A clear career progression plan is essential to employees. Along with planning your direct reports’ career paths in the company, a good leader also creates leadership opportunities for their direct reports. Leaders need to invest in their team by rewarding good work with appreciation, respect and opportunities for growth.
Creating entry-level, low-risk leadership opportunities empowers team members and allows them to practise leadership without too much pressure. Challenge them with high expectations, encourage them to be creative, and show innovation. Communicate clear goals and deadlines to your team, and give them the autonomy and authority to decide how the work gets done.
These opportunities can be as simple as leading a meeting or team-building activities, which can help build vital confidence in your team. From these activities, they can also get feedback from you about their leadership capabilities.
Related: How to boost employee engagement – in the office or at home
7. Lead with empathy
Empathy is a complex skill to quantify. Being empathetic is to be able to see and understand situations from various viewpoints of employees of different seniority in the company, and comprehend the consequences of their decisions on everyone in the company. It also means that the leader can look beyond to inspire, encourage and strategies in ways that will motivate employees at all levels.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the role empathy plays in an organisation. It emphasised the importance of compassionate leadership and showed how building open and sincere relationships between managers and their reports directly impact workplace culture. Compassionate leadership creates a psychologically safe workplace where employees are not afraid to discuss difficult topics.
8. Demonstrate integrity
A leader with integrity draws on their values to guide their decisions, behaviour and dealings with others. They have clear convictions about what is right and wrong and are respected for being genuine, principled, ethical and consistent. They have a strong sense of character, keep their promises, and communicate openly, honestly and directly with others.
9. Act objectively
A successful team leader is an objective leader who can understand various points of an argument or discussion while reaching goal-oriented solutions. Objective leaders can also access external factors to reach fair decisions that sit well with the whole team. Team members will also know that decisions are fair and just rather than based on preferences or other factors.
Related: How to manage a remote team effectively
10. Lead by example
As a leader, the best way to build credibility and gain the respect of others is to set exemplary examples. Demonstrate the behaviour that you want people to follow. If you demand a lot from your team, you should also be willing to set high standards for yourself. Aligning your words and actions will help build trust and make your team more inclined to follow your example.
11. Share their vision
Having a strong company vision and effectively communicating that vision can help employee engagement remain high and drive the organisation forward. A leader with a vision clearly knows where they want to go, how to get there, and what success looks like.
Be sure to articulate your vision clearly and passionately, ensuring your team understands how their efforts contribute to higher-level goals. Working toward your vision with persistence, tenacity, and enthusiasm will inspire others to do the same.
Share your vision early and often, and set clear team goals that support this. If team members approach you for advice, give your input and don’t be afraid to make the hard decisions. The more decisive and transparent you are, the easier it is for employees to contribute to your vision.
Discover the latest in our 2022 Talent Trends report, The Great X: This survey report covers what hiring professionals need to know to address talent attraction and employee retention for the year ahead.
It also highlights a change of times in the hiring outlook as job candidates and employees now prioritise their well-being more than ever. Download our report to find out more.
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