Matt Tenney, Contributor
Good leadership comes down to a combination of hard and soft skills, with emotional intelligence being one of the most important assets any leader can have. Anyone hoping to become a leader who inspires their teams to do great work should work on developing these skills before they are given a leadership title.
After all, good leadership isn’t about titles. It’s about building influence with others and relating to them in authentic ways that build trust.
Whether you are currently in a leadership position or hoping to move into one soon, there are many opportunities for you to demonstrate leadership behavior at work and show that you are good leadership material.
And you don’t have to be the boss to be a good leader.
In this article, we’ll look at the ways in which leaders demonstrate leadership on the job and how anyone, no matter their level within an organization, can demonstrate these behaviors.
- Take Ownership Like a Leader
- Communicate Like a Leader
- Give and Receive Feedback Like a Leader
- Solve Problems Like a Leader
- Delegate Like a Leader
- Resolve Conflicts Like a Leader
- Manage Time Like a Leader
- Adapt Like a Leader
- Motivate Like a Leader
- Be Patient Like a Leader
- Show Empathy Like a Leader
- Build Trust Like a Leader
1. Take Ownership Like a Leader
“The buck stops here,” a phrase popularized by US President Harry S. Truman, who displayed a sign with the phrase on his desk in the White House during his presidency, will be the motto of any good leader.
This phrase is a distillation of the idea that when leaders make decisions, they have to accept the responsibility for those decisions and can’t pass the responsibility for bad decisions onto others, while taking credit for good decisions.
Leaders are responsible for their teams and guide them toward achieving goals. When those goals aren’t met, leaders have to be willing to acknowledge their role in the process and learn from their mistakes.
As David Burkus says, “Too many people try to shift blame and make excuses, but great leaders take ownership of problems and work to find lessons and solutions.”
Part of being a good leader is being a good team player. One of the best ways to be a good team player is by taking ownership. In other words, tomorrow’s good leaders don’t throw their teammates under the bus for the team’s failures or take sole credit when the team does great work.
Burkus also says that accountability makes the difference between aspiring leaders and inevitable leaders. If you can learn to take ownership of your role and responsibility for your job as a subordinate, you will have a much smoother transition into leadership.
Team members who step up and hold themselves accountable, especially on collaborative projects, help build respect and influence. Taking responsibility for a team effort, even when that effort was not successful, shows your teammates that you are willing to take ownership of your work and learn from your mistakes.
2. Communicate Like a Leader
Leaders set the tone for strong communication by being approachable and open to suggestions. Clearly communicating goals, objectives, and expectations provides the clarity all employees need to do their jobs well and with self-confidence.
But good communication skills are just as important for aspiring leaders and a must-have for inevitable leaders.
Keep in mind, for communication to be most effective it should be honest and respectful. It should also be a two-way street. Leaders should be skilled at receiving communications, especially feedback, from employees and responding to them in a timely manner, and in a way that makes them feel truly heard.
If you are trying to move into a leadership position, always be mindful of how, what, and when you communicate with your teammates. This not only helps to maintain a positive work environment, but it also ensures there is clarity on projects and processes.
Part of a leader’s job is to communicate information about the company’s culture, clearly articulating and modeling the organization’s core values, mission, and vision. Communicative leaders build consensus around a shared vision and inspire their teams to work according to this shared vision.
Anyone looking to move into a leadership position in an organization that is culture-driven will also model core values for their co-workers and share their leader’s commitment to the vision.
3. Give and Receive Feedback Like a Leader
Feedback is a central component of effective communication. Establishing a culture of feedback can lead to greater employee satisfaction, an improvement mindset, and better productivity.
Good feedback is feedback that is constructive, compassionate, specific, focused, timely, and presented in a positive tone. When done well, good feedback provides an actionable and solutions-oriented framework that guides employees toward desired behaviors.
For feedback to be effective, whether it’s a critique or praise for an employee’s contribution, it should specifically tie into a larger overall goal, rather than being generic, and should outline a course of action.
Employees can benefit greatly from frequent feedback from their leaders. They can also provide useful feedback to leadership. Good practice for a future leader is to establish a good, mutually beneficial system of feedback with their co-workers.
Providing helpful feedback to your team can help them improve their performance. Being open to feedback from teammates can help you improve your performance.
4. Solve Problems Like a Leader
Leaders need strong analytical and critical thinking skills to solve problems effectively and the ability to remain calm under pressure when problems arise so that they can better solve them.
They also need to be able to identify creative solutions in a timely manner that make the best use of available resources.
The ability to address the problems that will inevitably arise (no matter how much we plan, things can go sideways) while remaining positive and mission-focused, is not only a necessary leadership skill, it can serve as a great example for employees.
Additionally, being the kind of leader who can recognize problem-solving skills in their employees is a great leadership skill. Employees can approach problems from a variety of perspectives and offer options for leaders when it comes to identifying creative solutions.
Doing this has the added benefit of making employees feel heard, valued, and essential to the organization’s success. It also provides a great opportunity for employees who are looking to be leaders to show off their problem-solving skills.
Employees who engage with the problem-solving process in thoughtful ways regularly are demonstrating their commitment to overcoming obstacles to success and are also demonstrating good leadership skills.
5. Delegate Like a Leader
Good leaders delegate. They think strategically to identify the best path forward, and they give their employees the right amount of guidance and autonomy to do their work well.
The ability to delegate work to the right people with realistic expectations is a leadership skill that will always come in handy, no matter what field you are in. Delegating effectively requires attention to detail, trust, and thorough knowledge of your team members’ strengths and weaknesses.
Guiding the work of employees so that it flows smoothly and ensuring they are equipped to do the work provides the foundation employees need to do their best work.
For someone who is not yet in a leadership position, learning the importance of delegating can help you transition into a leadership role. Trusting your team is so important to success, and delegation means entrusting your team with the organization’s success.
If they continually deliver, they may have the skills to be a leader one day.
Accountability comes into play with delegation. Good leaders take accountability for their work, and employees who are leadership material will also take responsibility for the tasks delegated to them.
6. Resolve Conflicts Like a Leader
Being able to solve conflicts with tact and diplomacy can make the difference between a toxic work environment and a work environment where employees get along and work together harmoniously toward a common goal.
To address conflicts effectively, a leader should always make sure the employees involved feel heard and respected.
When conflicts are not resolved, it can hurt employee morale and hinder productivity, so they should be addressed as soon as possible and with a high level of emotional intelligence.
Potential leaders will take the same approach to their co-workers and do their part to ensure an inclusive, productive work environment where morale is high. They can do this by dealing with any conflict they have with a co-worker in a constructive way and avoiding conflict when possible.
7. Manage Time Like a Leader
Time management is critical for a team’s success. Having a leader that can manage time wisely helps employees manage their time wisely.
Leaders often have to manage many tasks, responsibilities, and projects simultaneously. They also have to prioritize deadlines, track progress, and assess the completed project, while they also monitor the performance of others.
Because of this, time management is a skill that’s best honed before one moves into a leadership role. It will be difficult to help employees manage their time if you, as a leader, aren’t able to deliver on time.
Employees looking to move into a leadership role can build influence by showing their teammates that they can successfully manage multiple responsibilities and consistently meet deadlines.
8. Adapt Like a Leader
Change is inevitable, and leaders need to be able to adapt if they expect their employees to adapt. Adaptable leaders really shine in times of uncertainty.
Adaptable leaders are flexible, creative, and adept at problem-solving. As situations change, they roll with the punches and help their employees adapt and maintain high performance, even in environments where change is constant.
Adaptable leaders are able to learn from mistakes and have an improvement mindset that facilitates innovation.
They are able to maintain a consistent work environment to make employees feel psychologically safe, and they can guide employees as they adapt, making them less fearful of the future and more positive about facing challenges.
Employees can demonstrate true leadership skills by always being adaptable in times of change. Whether it’s a willingness to cover for a co-worker who is out sick or take on new areas of responsibility during difficult times, an employee with leadership potential will be amenable to change and willing to adapt as the situation dictates.
9. Motivate Like a Leader
One of the most challenging aspects of retaining engaged employees who perform well is keeping employees motivated. A leader’s ability to motivate employees will determine how well they engage and retain employees.
Leaders need to understand what really motivates their employees to best meet their needs and engage them with their work. Motivation drives an employee’s success and plays a vital role in employee satisfaction.
Good leaders use strategies that boost intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, resulting in employees that are more invested in their jobs and more loyal to their organizations.
If you are looking to become a good leader someday, you can start by being a good co-worker and recognizing the accomplishments and good work of your teammates. This can motivate your co-workers to keep giving their best effort and deepen their commitment to the team’s success.
10. Be Patient Like a Leader
The pandemic showed us the need for patience in the workplace.
Workers can come up against the impatience of others many times during the workday. While it isn’t feasible to expect customers to always be patient, leaders can always show their teams patience.
You never know what some of your employees are going through. By seeking to understand, you are providing a good example for all employees, especially future leaders.
Being patient with your co-workers when they struggle, especially in difficult situations or times of uncertainty, can build trust and help you avoid conflict. It’s also an excellent way for you to hone your leadership skills and establish influence with your teammates.
11. Show Empathy Like a Leader
Patience goes hand-in-hand with empathy and leads to truly compassionate leadership. The pandemic showed those of us who didn’t already know the importance of empathy in leading workers and making decisions.
According to Charlene Walters, author and consultant, the stress many workers have endured over the last few years has made empathy a must-have leadership skill.
Walters says, “We’ve experienced the pandemic, the great resignation, staffing and supply chain issues, and have been forced to do more with less, time and time again. It takes a strong leader to keep an organization moving forward despite the many disruptive events occurring in our society and business environment.”
It takes good leaders who are capable of empathy to keep organizations afloat in turbulent times.
Good leaders are authentic and care about their employees. They don’t just focus on profits and statistics; they consider the employees who are working diligently to help the organization achieve its vision, and they are aware of how decisions can impact them.
Employees with ambitions to lead can demonstrate empathy toward their co-workers, which can help them build trust and influence before they get the title. Always listen to your co-workers, seek to understand where they are coming from, and maintain open, honest channels of communication.
12. Build Trust Like a Leader
Trust is vital for any team. It helps leaders establish rapport with their employees and helps employees build strong relationships with their co-workers.
A high level of trust can facilitate good communication, collaboration, and a sense of camaraderie among employees. It also helps employees engage more with their work and perform better.
The level of trust an employee has in their leader affects how well employees perform, how productive they are, and how profitable the organization is. When there is a lack of trust, it can lead to toxic work environments, which will cause employees to leave.
If you want to move into a leadership role, trust will be the foundation on which you build your future as a leader, and it’s never too soon to start forging trust-based relationships with the people you hope to lead one day.
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Matt Tenney is an active CEO who aspires to create the best workplace culture in the world. Matt is also the author of Serve To Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom, and The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence. Matt is frequently invited to present keynote speeches at leadership conferences and meetings. His TEDx Talk has been viewed over 1,000,000 times since January, 2020.