Business Leadership Today

How To Be an Effective Leader


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

As the folks at Gallup say, “There may not be an ‘I’ in team, but there is an ‘I’ in disengaged.”

Disengagement has been a real problem that has only worsened over the past few years. Gallup reports that only 32% of full- and part-time employees are engaged, while 17% are actively disengaged. 

Because leaders impact engagement more than any other factor in the workplace, when employees disengage from their work, it is typically because they have disengaged from leadership. To solve the employee disengagement issue, we have to identify ways to solve the leadership issues that lead to disengagement.  

If leaders want to address disengagement effectively, they need to lead effectively. This means making sure they are managing their people in ways that are conducive to the success of both the organization and the well-being of its employees. 

In this article, we’ll look at nine tips for being an effective leader:

  1. Build authentic, trust-based relationships
  2. Be adaptable
  3. Encourage innovation
  4. Commit to the growth of team members
  5. Embrace mistakes
  6. Keep team members motivated
  7. Foster accountability
  8. Lead compassionately
  9. Communicate effectively

1. Build Authentic, Trust-Based Relationships

How do you lead a team effectively? By building trust and influence with each member of the team. 

To be an effective leader, you can’t just rely on a title or positional authority to build influence. You need to convince those you lead to follow you, not because they have to, but because they want to

Effective leaders do this by building connections with team members that are rooted in trust and authentic influence. Trust is vital for any team. It helps leaders establish rapport with their employees and helps employees build strong relationships with their co-workers. 

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.

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.

Leaders build trust with team members by honing their emotional intelligence and leading with self-awareness, compassion, honesty, and transparency. Demonstrating a strong sense of accountability, engaging in active listening, and offering opportunities for employees to work with autonomy are just a few ways leaders do this. 

2. Be Adaptable

Change is inevitable. Teams need to be able to adapt when it happens. Adaptable leaders really shine in times of uncertainty. Teams with adaptable leaders also shine in terms of uncertainty. 

Adaptable leaders are flexible, creative, and adept at problem-solving. As situations change, adaptable leaders are better able to weather change and help their employees adapt and maintain high performance, even in environments where change is constant.

Adaptable leaders are able to maintain a consistent work environment where 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.  

Perhaps the most important part of being adaptable is inviting all team members to be part of the process and encouraging them to bring ideas to the table that lead to creative solutions and build resilience.  

In my recent interview with Karin Hurt, we discussed some ways leaders do this: 

Hurt says clarity is the key: 

“This is clarity around two things; clarity that you really do want people’s ideas, and clarity about what a good idea would accomplish. Because if you just say ‘Hey I have an open door, bring me any idea anytime,’ that’s a lot. But if you say ‘You know what, in this pivot to working from home, I’m very concerned about the mental health of our employees, do you have any ideas about that?’ That’s more specific and I can give you ideas around that.”

Because adaptable leaders are better able to learn from mistakes, they are also able to cultivate an improvement mindset (and help their team members do the same) that facilitates innovation. More on that in the next section.

3. Encourage Innovation

Leaders who foster work environments where innovative thinking and creative problem solving are a way of life are ensuring the long-term success of their organizations. How do leaders do this? By creating the ideal conditions for innovation to occur. 

Karin Hurt explains:

Most leaders know that a fearful environment is detrimental to innovation. Leaders who truly care about employees devote a good deal of time to creating and sustaining an environment that is free of fear, with team members who are not afraid to take risks and are empowered to make decisions.

When leaders truly care about employees and build healthy, trusting relationships with employees, the element of fear is removed, and one of the biggest obstacles to innovation is thereby removed as well.

4. Commit To The Growth of Team Members

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that a lack of opportunities for advancement was among the top reasons US workers quit their jobs last year. 

Employees need to build new skills and knowledge to get better at their jobs and advance. The Pew survey suggests they won’t be happy in jobs where there is no clear path to advancement.

As leaders, we need to commit to the growth of our team members if we expect them to accompany us on the journey. You can’t expect your team to grow and develop in their roles, and move into higher-level roles, if you do not provide them with opportunities to grow and develop and encourage them to take advantage of these opportunities. 

Offering learning opportunities, whether it’s online or in-person training, leadership development, or tuition reimbursement, can meet employees’ growth needs and help them advance professionally. 

Leaders also help employees achieve personal growth by providing them with volunteer opportunities that incorporate community involvement into their work lives. This boosts employee morale and creates a positive working environment.

In fact, research shows that 70% of workers believe that volunteer opportunities boost morale more than company mixers, and 77% believe that volunteerism is essential to employee well-being.

5. Embrace Mistakes

Leaders who commit to the growth of others help them develop an improvement mindset. Another way leaders help their team members do this is by embracing mistakes. 

There are few policies that are more detrimental to growth, innovation, and morale in an organization than a “zero-tolerance” policy toward mistakes. Yet, many managers (and even CEOs) still push such policies. 

Forbes contributor Glenn Llopis says managers who do this could be jeopardizing their company’s future: 

“Managing mistakes is much like leading change management. Everyone is in search of the clarity and understanding to minimize risk and discover the short- and long-term rewards of change. We focus so much time on maximizing our strengths but not enough time on understanding how and why we fail—which is equally important to success in the marketplace.”

Leaders who view mistakes as learning opportunities and encourage employees to do the same are actually creating the necessary conditions for innovation and growth. Without trying, failing, learning from our failures, and trying again, innovation isn’t possible.

Cultivating an improvement mindset not only helps leaders hone their leadership skills, but also inspires their team members to continuously develop their skills when they model this principle. Leaders can also help their teams continually improve by providing regular constructive feedback and coaching and mentoring employees. 

6. Keep Team Members Motivated

Motivation drives an employee’s success and plays a vital role in employee satisfaction. To keep employees motivated and consistently performing well, leaders need to understand what really motivates them in order to best meet their needs and engage them with their work. 

Effective 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. They should work continuously to create the necessary conditions for their employees to stay motivated to do great work and help them identify and remove obstacles to doing great work. 

The most important job of a leader, and the key to being a great leader, is to motivate employees to do great work. It’s not just about ensuring the day-to-day work of the team is done; it’s about inspiring each team member to fully invest in their roles and reach their full potential.

Often, when people get into management positions, they do not realize how essential the ability to motivate teams is to future success and the very important role intrinsic motivation plays in getting employees to do great work.

Some ways to motivate employees include being flexible, giving them the tools they need to work with autonomy, helping them to develop and advance professionally, and uniting them with a sense of purpose that is aligned with the organization’s mission, vision, and core values. 

7. Foster Accountability

According to the Partners In Leadership Workplace Accountability Study, 85% of the professionals surveyed aren’t clear on their organization’s expected results. 

The study also found that 93% of respondents weren’t able to align their work with expected results or take accountability for them, and 84% faulted leaders’ behavior as the biggest factor impacting responsibility in their organizations.

Leaders are responsible for their teams and guiding 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. 

In my recent interview with Shanda Miller, author of From Supervisor to Super Leader, we discussed how most feedback is missing a critical component—expectations.

You can’t expect employees to take accountability for results if they aren’t being given the clarity they need to take ownership and do great work. When leaders provide this clarity through frequent feedback, they are demonstrating their own accountability for expectation-setting and inspiring their employees to hold themselves accountable for meeting expectations.

Rather than punishing employees for not achieving expected results, focus on ensuring there is clarity in job expectations, clearly communicate the organization’s goals and the role employees play in achieving those goals, and don’t just react when teams fall short of expectations—make sure you are giving employees recognition when they do achieve the expected results. 

8. Lead Compassionately

Compassionate leadership is what you get when you mix traditional leadership skills with a hearty dose of empathy, sympathy, and compassion. 

Sympathy helps us feel sorrow for another’s misfortune. Empathy helps us understand and share the feelings of another. 

When we are compassionate, we move beyond feelings of sympathy and empathy, and take action to relieve the suffering of others. The compassionate leader doesn’t just dispense empathy, they take actions to relieve suffering.

Employees who work for compassionate managers are 25% more engaged in their work, 20% more committed to the organization, and 11% less likely to experience burnout. 

Compassionate leadership also gives us a much more effective way of dealing with conflict and poor performance. In my recent interview with investor Piyush Patel, we discussed the valuable role compassion plays in leading well and how a lack of compassion hurts the trust we need to maintain with employees to ensure they perform well.

Patel says, “Management stepping over employees to create resolution for customers breaks trust between employees and management. Short-term thinking and focusing on profits will ultimately lead to lack of compassion for your employees. As soon as that happens the quality of your service will begin to decline.”

9. Communicate Effectively

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. 

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. This is imperative for building engagement and improving retention. 

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. 

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.

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

Others Recent Articles and Podcast Episodes

Would you like to dramatically improve employee engagement?

Get a free training video that will show you how to double the number of engaged, motivated employees in just a few months.