You’ve just been promoted or asked to lead a project team. You’ve earned the respect of your peers, your boss, and your customers as a professional. You’ve had good reviews and regular pay increases… But, are you a good leader?
Most of us major in a particular field of study and then get hired to do work in that particular field. Few of us train to become a leader. We may have been able to try out leadership as a captain of a sports team, or a volunteer organization, but once we get promoted or asked to lead, how do we know if we have what it takes? We usually don’t. Not until we have a series of successes and failures that help us to figure it out. We seek out training, coaching, or mentoring. Most of us struggle to do it well, and some of us decide it’s not worth it. A very few of us actually do it naturally. I have found those that are so called naturals are actually students of leadership. They pay attention to what works and doesn’t work. Good leadership is what most organizations need desperately today.
Let’s get talking about why leadership is important, how to find out if you are a good leader and what are the regular practices of great leaders.
Great leadership is important for several reasons:
- Employee retention – The #1 reason employees leave their job is for reasons related to their immediate manager (according to Gallup Research, 2008), not because of pay or benefits. Employees leave managers because of unclear expectations, inadequate resources, and few opportunities for growth and development.
- Changing workforce demographics – With the Millennials about to make up 50% of the workforce in 2020, the role of leadership and the immediate manager/project leader will become increasingly important. Millennials are more focused on the immediate future vs the long-term, value inspirational leadership, work-life balance, varied and innovative workplaces, career progression and development and the ability to express themselves openly. Older workers also are increasingly valuing work life balance, as they manage aging parents and childcare/grandchild care. And if that isn’t complex enough, managers are often leading culturally diverse teams who are working remotely, are geographically dispersed, and may/may not be permanent employees. All of this requires solid and sophisticated leadership skills.
A younger colleague of mine is leaving a Fortune 100 firm to start her own business. When asked why, she said. “I’m not inspired by my manager and so I think I’ll try my own thing.
3. Interviews with CEO’s are increasingly emphasizing the need for talented leaders to lead diverse workforces to solve complex business challenges. Today’s organizations need great leaders more than ever or leaders who are interested in developing into leaders.
How you can tell if you’re a good leader
So you know that your role as a leader is very important in today’s complex environment, but how do you find out how you are doing? You might ask yourself, why you should even care. If you are asking yourself this, then go back and re-read #1 above, immediately. Your role is very important. Now I have good news and bad news for you. The bad news is that learning to be a good leader is a never ending process. You are continuing to develop and grow your skills. You most likely will never actually arrive as a perfect leader, because the role (like so many others) is constantly changing and evolving. What’s required to be a great leader in one organization or situation is completely different in another. Now the good news. The good news is that you will not be alone in this struggle to learn what it takes to be a great leader. You have many colleagues on this journey with you. Are you still interested? Ok, here we go…
The first way to determine how good a leader you are is to assess how well your team is doing.
First, assess them as a team. Are they motivated, engaged, collaborative, self-initiating, high-performing, and connected to your goals and the goals of the organization? If you can’t answer unequivocally “Yes” in all these areas, then you probably have some work to do (and you would be the rare leader, if you didn’t have some work to do in one or more of these areas). You most likely have some top performers, average performers, and you may have some low performers.
I’m currently working with an executive whose department isn’t performing as well as he would like – he believes it has to do with his staff. But the CEO, who is evaluating my client’s performance, isn’t paying attention to the staff reporting to my client. Because he believes the performance of the staff is directly related to the leadership of the department; he is holding my client accountable for the performance of his department and his own leadership.
Second, get some feedback
Now you may realize that you have some work to do with your team, and you probably have some ideas on what you need to do. But there is no reason you need to do this by yourself. Get some feedback!
There are several ways to do this:
- You could start with someone on your staff that you trust to give you balanced and objective feedback – someone you would be comfortable hearing good and bad news from. Ask him/her: “if there were one thing I could do that would really make a difference in my leadership, what would it be?
- Once you have done that – ask the rest of the folks on your team, one by one or collectively as a group, or even through a survey if that is more comfortable for you.
- Thank everyone who gives you feedback, decide on the one thing you are going to work on, and then share that with your group. Ask for their on-going support and feedback. Your willingness to do this, will also role model for your team, the importance of getting feedback and continuing to focus on personal growth and development.
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” John F. Kennedy
Regular practices of great leaders
So now that you have gotten feedback and are in the process of improving yourself in one area, you should know that your team wants feedback and suggestions for how they can continue to learn and grow, as well. Great leaders engage in a series of regular practices that contribute to a high performing team/department.
Great leaders frequently communicate vision, values, and goals
First of all, you need to know what your values are. Then how your values align with organizational values and translate into the work you/your department does. Perhaps your values are achievement, health, family, prosperity, and happiness. How do those values show up at work, in how you lead, in what you expect from others? Maybe you are highly motivated by a winning team or by accomplishing a significant business goal. Maybe you promote work hard while also having balance. Being clear about your values and then ultimately your vision and goals, will help your team figure out how they can contribute. Learn the values and goals of your staff as well and how you can incorporate their values/goals in yours/the team goals.
Great leaders find ways to give daily feedback.
Once you know your vision, values, and goals and what you expect of others – you can continually reinforce positive behavior and accomplishments of team members, reinforcing what’s needed for a high performing team. Daily feedback is also helpful for course correction – keeping your team members on track.
Great leaders hold one-on-one meetings with their staff
Finally great leaders, hold regular one-on-one meetings with their staff weekly or bi-weekly. You might think you don’t have time, but these meetings are an opportunity for you to hear how your staff are doing – what challenges they are facing, what coaching they need, etc. These meetings give you insight into the status of the work in your department, so when you are asked – you know what’s going on. Additionally, this is a time for you to build a relationship with your staff member – to understand their career interests and motivations and personal values and how you can support them. Most of my clients, at all levels really appreciate the opportunity to meet with their boss and share what’s happening on their projects. This is a time for recognition, for coaching, for recalibration, for determining what barriers/obstacles you need to help remove, what actions you need to take. Leaders who do regular one-on-ones have more satisfied and high performing teams.
Leadership is important now more than ever as global organizations have access to global talent pools. Those organizations that are able to attract and retain the best talent ultimately win and an organization’s ability to do this has to do with the quality of its leaders.
Great leaders get feedback regularly and are constantly figuring out ways to learn, grow and engage in practices that promote high performing teams.
- Gallup Research Publications, 2008
- Global Human Capital Trends, 2015 – Deloitte University Press
- “What’s Next: Future Global Trends Affecting your Organization – Evolution of work and the Worker”. SHRM Foundation White Paper. February 2014
Photo credit: Flickr/David Goehring