Behind any successful business is a strong leadership team. Great leaders can improve company retention and profitability – and companies with highly-engaged employees are almost twice as likely to perceive their leaders as effective, compared to those with low engagement.
However, being a great leader doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Like any expertise, leadership skills must be learned and honed. And, while there are plenty of qualities of a strong leader, some leadership qualities are more important than others.
If you’re looking toward a leadership role, it’s a good idea to brush up on your team management skills first. Otherwise, regular self-assessment – whether you’re an experienced leader or not – will continually develop your styles and approach. The greatest benefit, of course, is that by leading by example, your team will mirror the same standards, efforts and pride they take in their work, in turn, creating the next batch of great leaders.
Here are the 12 most important traits of effective team leaders.
1. Acknowledgment, appreciation and giving due credit
It is important to give credit where it is due and show appreciation for efforts of every team member. By showing appreciation for team members’ contributions, you will also encourage a positive environment and culture where they are more appreciative of each others’ efforts. Also, by recognising contributions, members will be more willing to go that extra mile when needed.
2. Active listening
Good leaders give orders; great leaders actively listen.
For any successful leader, listening is how they make informed decisions and stay attuned to what is going on with their team and their company. The best leaders are proactive, strategic, and intuitive listeners. In order to be a great leader, you need to be a great communicator – and great communicators listen. Employees want to feel listened to, not patronised or even worse, ignored.
After famously resigning in 1985, Steve Jobs said he returned to Apple as a humbled and better leader – and former Apple CEO John Scully credited a lot of this to his newfound ability to listen. As a leader, it’s important to be an active listener: never interject or interrupt, maintain eye contact, and use nods or other visual cues to show you are genuinely listening, without interrupting.
3. Showing commitment
A leader that displays commitment to a project or team – and the overall organisation – is more likely to gain the trust of their team members. No one likes to work for a non-committed leader or in a non-committed team. The commitment shown from you as a leader will help foster team spirit that will differentiate an outstanding team from a mediocre one. A leader’s tenacity and commitment could well be the difference between success and failure when a team runs into problems. Importantly, showing commitment keeps team morale high.
4. Having a clear vision
One of the most important qualities of a leader is to show confidence through effective decision-making. Successful leaders commit to their vision and strategy, and don’t change their minds unless it is absolutely necessary. Strong leaders also have a clear, concise, and well-articulated message that funnels down to every member in the team.
While many leaders have a clear vision in place, it all comes down to communication and collaboration. 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 clear you are, the easier it is for employees to contribute to your vision.
5. Investing in the team’s future
Having a clear career progression plan is important to employees, which is why it’s important for leaders to invest in their team by rewarding good work with appreciation, respect and opportunities for growth.
In a survey of over 20,000 employees around the world, respect came out as the most important leadership behaviour for teams. If team members feel their skills are respected and valued, they’re more likely to be engaged and contribute to the company in future.
In a strong team, respect has to start from the top. Great leaders get the best from their team because their team works together to earn their admiration, and they believe their leaders will invest in them, in return. Support your team and show your respect for individual career ambitions by listening and working on tailored development plans. Plus, regularly encourage them to pursue promotions or take part in training opportunities. This shows you respect their career, and that you care about their future.
6. Acting with 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. Displaying integrity through your daily actions will see you rewarded with loyalty, confidence and respect from your employees.
7. Acting objectively
A successful team leader is objective. An objective leader is able to understand various points of an argument or discussion, while reaching solutions that are goal-oriented. Objective leaders are also able to external factors to reach fair decisions that sit well with the team. Team members will also know that decisions made are fair and just, rather than being based on preferences or other factors.
8. Motivating others
The best leaders drive their team forward with passion, enthusiasm, inspiration and motivation. Invest time in the people you lead to determine their strengths, needs and priorities. As well as making them feel valuable, this will help you to understand the best way to motivate them. Continually reinforce how their efforts are making a difference, and encourage the development of their potential with meaningful goals and challenges.
9. Embracing failure
Failure is an inevitable part of a success, and any good leader is prepared for it. Successful leaders don’t shy away from failure – they use it as an opportunity for growth. As Robert Kiyasaki once said: “Winners are not afraid of losing. But losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.”
Whether it’s a personal setback or a challenge within your team, understanding moments of failure are helpful as it encourages your team to challenge the status quo, improve and innovate.
In this case, it’s essential to lead by example – so encourage your teams to embrace failure by publicly acknowledging your own setbacks and share how you grew from each missed opportunity, whether big or small.
10. Making hard decisions
To be an effective leader, the ability to make fast, difficult decisions with limited information is critical. When facing a tough decision, start by determining what you are trying to achieve. Consider the likely consequences of your decision and any available alternatives. Make your final decision with conviction, take responsibility for it and follow it through. Being a resolute and confident decision-maker will allow you to capitalise on opportunities and earn the respect of your team.
11. Empower team members
Great leaders understand that for people to give their best, they must have a sense of ownership over their work and believe that what they’re doing is meaningful. Communicate clear goals and deadlines to your team, and then give them the autonomy and authority to decide how the work gets done. Challenge them with high expectations and encourage them to be creative and show innovation.
12. Lead by example
Great leaders prove their commitment by setting the example and inspiring their teams to reach a common goal. As a leader, you need to demonstrate how to succeed, then use your success as a benchmark for your team. This way, you not only earn the respect of your team, but also build their confidence in your expertise.
One of the best ways to go about this is to be transparent about your expectations and objectives, and demonstrate how to get there. Let your team know what you are doing, and how you are doing it – this way, your team has tangible learning opportunities and something to aspire to.