Leaders have a unique talent for rallying people together and getting them passionate about working towards something amazing. This is no easy task, being a good leader is very tough. So much to do, so much to think about, so much responsibility. It’s a lot of pressure to know that so many people are counting on you. Leadership development is one of the most important topics to focus on when looking at how we can have more successful organizations.
In this post, I want to look at how most leaders are chosen, what makes a good leader, and how you can improve your leadership skills.
Before we dive deep into all of that, I want to highlight something very important.
Just because you’re a senior executive, doesn’t make you a leader. Leadership has nothing to do with your level on the hierarchy. Leaders can be anywhere, at any level in an organization. Also, just because you’re the manager of a team, doesn't make you a leader. Many people confuse management with leadership, but they’re different. Managing a team is about hiring, firing, planning, measuring, etc. Leading is all about people.
The key to being a good leader is understanding how to deal with people. This is why I write so much about the importance of emotional intelligence. Leading people is all about understanding how to motivate them, empathizing with them, caring for them so that you can make them better, listening to your employees, etc.
And this is backed up by research. There are numerous studies that show that emotionally intelligent leaders have teams with higher employee engagement. But most of the people that are in leadership positions frankly don’t belong there.
Why is that?
The problem is, most companies promote the wrong people into leadership positions based on their technical skills, even when they don’t have the necessary “soft skills” to motivate their team.
How we find leaders is flawed
When we think about leaders, we might envision a big, tall, loud, handsome, charismatic person (likely a male), wearing a suit, commanding a room. These biases are natural, but we’re making a huge mistake when we think like this, because we’re only feeding into the problem of having the wrong people in leadership positions.
Some things that our biases look for when choosing leaders:
In fact, researchers have found that 30% of leaders that get into those positions are due to genetic factors. But there’s plenty of research to show that none of these things matter when it comes to being an effective leader.
One study found that almost everywhere in the world people perceive men as “more leader-like”, but there is actually no difference at all.
Research has found that extroverts are more likely to get leadership positions, even though introverts are likely better leaders. Introverts are usually better at listening (a key trait for leaders), they spend more time preparing, and do more self-reflection, all important qualities of a good leader.
Psychologist Tim Judge found that altruistic, empathetic, and sociable people tend to make better leaders but are chosen to lead less frequently.
So what actually makes a good leader?
Skills that good leaders have
Good leaders have a very high emotional intelligence. They understand and use their strengths, they’re always looking to improve, and are always learning. These are the skills that make a good leader.
1. They focus on their strengths
Good leaders are always taking stock of themselves and figuring out what their strengths and weaknesses are.Understanding where their weaknesses are helps them delegate that work to people better skilled, giving them time to focus on what they do well.
2. They’re great listeners
Good leaders know the power of listening. When you speak, you’re only saying what you already know. When you listen, you can learn something new. One of the greatest tricks that smart leaders use is waiting five seconds before responding to an employee when they bring something up. People will inherently want to fill that awkward silence so they’ll most likely keep talking, giving leaders more information to work with.
3. They’re excellent communicators
Communication is key. Good leaders know how to take complex things and make them sound simple. They know how to get everyone passionate about something through their communication. Their communication is clear, concise, and passionate.
4. They’re well-respected
Respect is earned and built over time, but leaders need to be respected in order to be listened to. Good leaders actively work on building up that respect by giving that respect back to their employees by including them and listening to them.
5. They collect lots of feedback
Good leaders are always looking to improve, and they’re not scared of what people will say about them. They see it as an opportunity to get better. Good leaders will collect a ton of feedback and actively seek that feedback from their team.
6. They’re accountable
At the end of the day, the buck stops with them. While good leaders will delegate and give autonomy to their team, they’ll get the blame if anything goes wrong. Good leaders know this, and hold their team accountable to make sure everyone shares the workload.
7. They recognize good work
Good leaders understand the value of a “thank you” and are not afraid to use it. They recognize all of the hard work from their team and are giving praise to their team very, very often. They’ll also build a culture of recognition, encouraging everyone to praise each other, creating those stronger bonds within the team.
Things to do to become a better leader
So now that you know how valuable emotional intelligence is to leadership and some of the skills that the best leaders have, what can you do to become a better leader?
Being humble makes you more human and creates a safe environment for your employees. Humility will make your employees more comfortable coming to you for anything.
How to practice humility:
- Give credit to other people for work you both did
- Try taking blame even if it wasn’t your fault
- If you make a mistake, own it
Leaders are always getting better and growing as people. You want to be the best you can be for your team, so you’ll want to constantly ask employees how you can improve.
How to practice collecting feedback:
- Tell your team you want to improve and you’re counting on them
- Use the feedback to grow and improve
- Show employees that you actually listen to their feedback
Be more self-aware
It’s important that you’re able to have a great understanding of who you are, your emotions, and how you’re affecting others.
Being self-aware and doing a constant “check-in” of yourself will help you develop that emotional intelligence.
How to practice self-awareness:
- Monitor your self-talk (look for negative self-talk)
- Pay attention to your body language
Find a mentor
Having a mentor is one of the most powerful ways to become a good leader. No need to reinvent the wheel, find someone to help you who has been through the trenches.
How to find a mentor:
- Make a list of people you respect (in or out of work)
- Discover how you can help them before they help you
- Don’t be shy and ask for help
What do you think makes a good leader?
Let us know in the comments below!