They often say it’s lonely at the top.

It’s true.

I’m going to be real with you.

Being a great leader can be difficult. How can you be accommodating, easy to approach and talk to, but still make sure your team remains professional and still things get done? Where is the line between being a leader and a “friend”?

In this article, we will talk about what a leader is, and what you can do to become a great one.

What is a Great Leader?

What makes a “good” leader? What does being a “good leader” even mean?

You don’t have to be a “boss” by title or by trade to be a good leader. Being a “leader” can mean being a mentor or a role model that influences another in your life.

It doesn’t mean always being serious, delegating, and focusing “on the job”, and wearing the corporate “mask”. You can enjoy the team you work with. That’s okay.

1. Understand your leadership style.

Everyone has a particular leadership style. Before you become a leader for the first time, or need to grow as an existing leader, then I suggest you start here. You can find a number of online leadership assessments, such as:

Each one will tell you what your leadership strengths and weaknesses are, and what type of leader you are. This will give you a good baseline to work from.

2. Take more ownership.

Being the boss isn’t about casting blame on others. If a project failed or your department didn’t reach a goal under your leadership, before you blame an individual on your team, or your executive leaders, first take a look at yourself. What was your role in the project or goal? What could you have done better? You likely had some level of involvement in it, what was it? Can you confidently say you did your part to the best of your ability?

Before pointing fingers at others or making excuses, you better be ready to take ownership of your part.

3. Be a curious listener.

Another cardinal rule of being a good leader is to practice active listening. This means completely focusing on the speaker, understanding their message, and responding thoughtfully (rather than interrupting, responding just to respond, or to try and get in the last word). This is not only rude, but you can miss important details, which can then lead to poor decision-making and even discredit you as a leader. Depending on the nature of your role or the industry you work in, this could even put your job on the line.

In a desperate attempt to respond, it is easy to fall victim to passive listening, which involves hearing a person speak but without really retaining their message.

Rather than thinking about and mentally rehearsing what you might say when the speaker is done, an active listener carefully considers the speaker’s words and processes the information.

Active listening takes practice, but if you can nail it, you will drastically improve as a leader. Not to mention, you might learn a thing or two about your team members that you might have otherwise overlooked or missed.

Remember, the simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.

4. Don’t micromanage.

Avoid this at all costs. Whatever it takes.

Regardless of what some old-school leaders might tell you, or what you might think, micromanaging does not lead to motivation or a higher level of productivity.

Rather, set up a system of accountability for your team, communicate that you trust them to get things done. If they abuse your trust and things don’t get done, then there will be repercussions. No, this isn’t a threat, it’s setting expectations. It’s that simple.

5. Tap into curiosity.

Adjust your thinking, try new things, listen to different perspectives. You will be surprised at what you learn by doing this, and your team will feel more empowered and comfortable coming to you with new ideas.

This doesn’t mean saying ‘YES’ to every idea they bring to the table, but every idea is arguably worth a discussion. You can also start a backlog of ideas. You can track these in a Google sheet, a spreadsheet, a project management tool such as Asana, Trello or Airtable. Then, set a recurring cadence to review that backlog from time to time.

6. Brainstorm and articulate goals together.

As a new leader, one of the things I enjoyed most about becoming a “boss” was having a team I could trust and bounce ideas off of. As our team grew larger, we started having monthly company lunch meetings. As a primarily remote team, it’s important for us to get together face-to-face and in the same room. We enjoy lunch as a group and although we have a relatively loose agenda, it was a great opportunity for the team to bring ideas or things they were thinking about to the table (literally).

For me personally, having our monthly lunch meetings was not only an opportunity to voice my own ideas, but it also held me accountable and kept me honest. It was also an opportunity for my team to voice their opinions and ideas openly and without judgment. In many cases, they were ideas that I never would have thought of on my own.

7. Lead by example.

If you want your team to work a certain way, follow a process, use specific tools, or follow a set of principles, then you need to do those things as well. People see right through the managers who bark orders but don’t follow them. If this is how you operate, then you will have a hard time earning and keeping the respect from your team.

If you expect your team to do something, such as following a process, working toward a goal, or using a project management system, then you better be ready to do it yourself.

8. Be a motivator, not a manager.

It can be easy to get caught between the power struggle of delegating tasks and projects to team members, get things done, and being a patient and effective leader. In fact, it’s easy for leaders to get caught up in what Chris McChesney coins in his book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution, the “whirlwind”. The “whirlwind” is the day-to-day hustle keeping up with meetings, phone calls, emails, Slack messages, and so on.

Sure, you might see an uptick in productivity when you aggressively stress and communicate to team members that they are running behind schedule or when things are overdue. OR you can be a leader who encourages and mentors on the best way to get more things done, helps them prioritize, and offers support along the way.

Above all, leadership isn’t about power—it’s about vision.

9. Don’t run from problems.

Anyone can see a problem. It takes a leader to examine why the problem is there and decide what to do about it. Leaders face problems head on and find solutions rather than run from them. 

10. Learn to delegate.

Not only will not delegating lead to burnout, but you are also robbing your team of the opportunity to develop as professionals and use their unique talents, ideas, and perspectives.

Remember, being a leader encourages ordinary people to become extraordinary people. Your goal as a leader should be to inspire others. Leadership is about how someone else experiences themselves in your presence.

11. Don’t stop learning.

If you’ve reached the leadership level, this doesn’t mean you’re done learning. In fact, leadership and learning go hand in hand. Good leaders always invest in learning new things. Learning and being open-minded to new ideas, concepts, and opportunities also allows leaders to be innovative, which brings us to our next point…

12. Be innovative and have a vision.

Innovation distinguishes a leader from a follower. Leaders are often described as creative problem-solvers, influencers, and innovators. Leaders who have a vision are more likely to be respected and motivated by their teams and other followers.

13. Focus on facts over feelings.

Even as a good leader, it’s not all fun, games, and great work. There will be times when you need to put your foot down and set the bar straight. This might mean having difficult or uncomfortable conversations or confrontations.

However, the best thing to keep in mind is to focus on facts over feelings. Think objectively. Don’t trust something at face value. Recognize common points and situations that involve mistakes and/or failure, as these are facts. Learn to separate your emotions from facts, practice active listening, and make the best decision.

What Are the Characteristics of a Great Leader?

So, in short, what are the characteristics of a great leader? Here’s a list…

  • They ask how they can make things better.
  • They share the maximum information they can.
  • They use their power mindfully and vigilantly.
  • They create an environment that allows others to flourish.
  • They communicate effectively and appropriately.
  • They are focused on performance and results.
  • They put a stop to poor behavior regardless of the results.
  • They adjust goals in any direction to ensure they are motivating.
  • They talk endlessly about responsibility.
  • They are mindful when using their power.
  • They understand politics.
  • They are motivating.
  • They are positive.

The Results of Great Leadership

All in all, even if a “servant”-like leadership style seems unorthodox, it will drive results. After all, happier employees are not only more productive, but they also produce higher-quality work.

By being a leader they can trust, you are creating a relaxed work atmosphere, which allows them to enjoy their work, be more creative, and produce results for your team and company you probably never would have imagined.

You know you have the right team when you not only love the work you do, you love the people you do it with. 

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