Traits and Skills of Effective Leaders and Managers
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Traits and Skills of Effective Leaders and Managers

Every effective leader must possess strong management skills. Learn how to build your skills in communication, relationship building, delegation and supervising, mentoring and delivering feedback to advance your career.

Leadership, at its purest form, is simply the ability to obtain followers. Effective leaders have a very strong sense of self; they understand the qualities that make other people want to follow them and they know how to adjust those qualities when circumstances require. The most effective leaders are those who:

  • know their own strengths and limitations;
  • create and effectively communicate a positive, realistic vision;
  • motivate and inspire followers to reach their potential;
  • look beyond their own self-interest and encourage others to do the same;
  • anticipate and manage conflicts fairly and objectively;
  • exhibit self-confidence;
  • instill trust;
  • respect and maintain personal and organizational values;
  • are fair, reasonable and compassionate;
  • behave consistently.

     This collection of skills and attributes, some of which are intangible, can be learned and developed throughout the course of your career. They are developed daily, not in a day and must be nurtured over time.

     Most people equate leadership with a specific position or job title. But you need more then a title on the door to have followers. People follow “Positional Leaders” only because they must; authority comes with the title. But people will not follow a positional leader beyond the stated authority; they will do just what they need to do to meet expectations and no more. Leadership is not about being the most powerful or smartest person in the room; it has to do with your ability to cast a vision and motivate people. Clearly, the effectiveness of your work depends on your ability to lead and influence others beyond what your title demands.

     Your goal is to become the type of leader people follow because they want to, not because they must. When you treat people fairly and consistently and demonstrate that you care about them and are committed to making them more successful, they will follow. However, be careful not to fall into the trap of “Relational Leadership.” That is when people follow you only because they like you. A leader who sacrifices productivity to preserve relationships will ultimately have limited effectiveness.

     Successful leaders learn how to use their “position” and their “relationships” to influence staff to focus on and achieve common objectives. These leaders develop and articulate goals and hold people (including themselves!) accountable for achieving those goals. They are prepared to make difficult decisions and balance the sensitivity of individual needs with organizational needs. Employees not only recognize their power and authority but they accept it and follow these trusted leaders willingly. Simply stated, leadership is the ability to INFLUENCE people and processes to achieve a better result for the organization and the people involved.

     The ability to influence lies not in title or image but in a person’s INTEGRITY. Image and title are what people think you are. Integrity is what you really are. Personal integrity establishes the ground rules between what you want to do and what you ought to do. Leaders with integrity are principled and behave consistently no matter who they are with. People will follow such leaders because they trust them and that trust enables them to strengthen their sphere of influence.

     There are two ways to get people to do what you want; compel them (with your title and power) or persuade them (through the power of your relationship). Persuading requires an understanding of what makes people tick and what motivates them. So the trick is to figure out how to INFLUENCE and MOTIVATE others through the effective use of both the carrot AND the stick.

     What assumptions do you have about your staff? An assumption is simply an opinion that something is true and will determine the filters through which you view their behaviors. Do you believe you must control and threatened people to get the best work out of them? Do you scoff at the notion of “employee self-actualization?” Or, do you believe your team will seek out and accept responsibility when their personal goals are aligned with the organizations goals?

     The primary leadership ASSET is to know yourself; the primary leadership SKILL is to neutralize the assumptions you make about the people around you; and the primary leadership TOOL is to know how to motivate and manage those you hope to lead in a variety of situations. To improve your leadership skills you must focus on 3 areas: SELF AWARENESS, SOCIAL AWARNESS AND SITUATIONAL AWARENESS.

LEADERSHIP ASSET: SELF AWARENESS

Think about the bosses you enjoyed working with throughout your career and what kind of leadership style they displayed. Most people agree that good leaders respect employees’ time, provide challenging assignments, give detailed instructions and offer meaningful feedback. They demonstrate a commitment to client service, lead by example and generously share the glory of a job well done. An honest assessment of your leadership qualities will enable you to capitalize on your natural strengths and work to improve those you find more challenging.  Ask yourself:

  • What kind of leader do I want to be?
  • How do I want to be perceived by those reporting to me?

     These are important considerations not only because it enables you to develop effective relationships but also because it enables you to complete the tasks at hand more effectively. By developing a reputation as someone dedicated to the career development of those junior to you, employees will clamor to work on your projects. You will maximize your leverage and have the needed time to perform the higher level tasks expected of a manager/supervisor thereby increasing your value to the organization.

     Create a written credo summarizing your values, beliefs, and management philosophy to help you focus not only on what you want to accomplish but how you want to do it.  Keep in mind, different situations require a different type of leadership to get the work done and preserve the relationships. Positional leaders rarely see the need to flex their style to accommodate the needs of others. That is why their sphere of influence is limited. Relational leaders flex their styles to such an extent that oftentimes they are perceived as chameleons. Such a lack of consistency limits their sphere of influence. The key is to remain consistent in your behavior by incorporating the strengths of various styles into your leadership persona and learn to manage the challenges of your dominate style.

LEADERSHIP SKILL: SOCIAL AWARENESS

     We make assumptions all the time based on our experiences and observations. These assumptions are not inherently right or wrong but they can color our reality. It is important to be aware of the assumptions you make when you speak with people you do know as well as those you do not know. Do you assume that a certain look or speech pattern represents a certain quality of thinking—good or bad? Do you assume people with specific characteristics (physical or otherwise) will behave in certain ways? For example, do you expect employees with a specific pedigree to behave a particular way? If your last secretary was unhelpful, do you assume all secretaries are useless? These assumptions can serve a useful purpose if you use them as hypothesis to be tested and challenged before becoming established filters through which you view everyone. Your goal is to acknowledge your assumption and then question whether it is true in this specific instance BEFORE reacting.

    Horse racing is based on the assumption that past performance is significant…and it is; but the amount of money lost at the track will tell you that an assumption—even one based on facts – is not a guarantee.

LEADERSHIP TOOL: SITUATIONAL AWARENESS

    Not all managers are leaders but every leader is a manager, therefore it is critical to develop the strong management skills of delegation and providing feedback. Differences in employee abilities, skills and style are inevitable and must be managed in order to meet workplace demands. Leaders who learn to recognize these differences and flex their leadership style to meet those needs will be more successful at managing and motivating their employees to achieve organizational objectives. The goal is not simply to make everyone happy but to understand how to capture individual talents to get the best out of each contributor to the project.

     Situational leaders always operate under the principal that you can never be too clear. For every deal, case or project they share critical information including:

  • Goals and Objectives. Too many busy managers delegate under the command and control style of “Do this because I said so.” They believe it will take too long to explain the details. However, if everybody from administrative support to senior manager understands the overall objective (which typically can be explained in 3 sentences in less than 30 seconds) or how their segment of the project ties into the overall goal, they will be more invested in the project and better serve the needs of the organization. It is important to communicate exactly what needs to be done in a clear effective manner. Indicate specifically what you want each person to do and be sure to confirm everyone is clear about assignments.
  • Operating Procedures. Let people know how you want information to be shared (e-mail, voicemail, meetings, etc.) who else is working on the project and any other peculiarities specific to this deal/case/project. Most importantly, let them know how best to approach you throughout the project if they need clarification or further instruction. Do not allow yourself to become a choke point or source of frustration for your team.
  • SPECIFIC Deadlines. “ASAP” is meaningless. So is “In a few days.” Try, “I need it in an hour” or “I need it Wednesday afternoon.” Leave no room for ambiguity. Setting specific deadlines and allowing your team to manage their own workload will ameliorate your constant need to hover and inquire “is it done yet?” to the relief of both you and our team members. It is equally important that YOU adhere to team deadlines. Again, if you become a choke point, you will frustrate members of your team.
  •  Expected performance standards. Even if you believe people should know what is expected of them—take the 10 seconds required to state the obvious. Remember, you can never be too clear. Also, it is important to hold yourself to the same high standards you set for your associates. Lead by example. Avoid barking out orders while rushed. You need to provide people with an opportunity to absorb the information and ask questions. Also, avoid thinking out loud when giving instructions. It causes confusion. Finally, try not to over explain or talk down to people. It will lead them to believe that you think they are too dumb to get it right the first time; remember, people rise or fall to the level of expectation.
  • Progress Reports. Provide on-going feedback to allow for corrections to be made as the project progresses. Capture those “teachable moments” along the way to strengthen your team. When delivered properly feedback:
    • Creates trust and cooperation; it focuses on improvements, both possible and those actually achieved.
    • Increases skills.
    • Improves confidence in ability and potential.
    • Clarifies exactly where the associate stands and what to do next.
    • Leaves staff feeling helped & empowered.

On-going, informal feedback enhances the formal appraisal process because employees receive messages throughout the year offering immediate corrective action for very specific behaviors. The formal review can than be used to reinforce those message and focus on systematic goal setting to ensure the professional development of each employee for the benefit of the individual as well as the organization.

     In order to be an effective leader you must be an effective manager. By following these simple guidelines you can ensure that the necessary tasks  will get completed while at the same time tending to the “relationship” needs of everyone involved in the project thereby enhancing your reputation as an effective leader.

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