How to be an Effective Leader… 3 keys to success

Jennifer L'Estrange
September 17, 2019
Are you new to managing a team? Learning how to be an effective leader is hard, especially if you’re new to managing people. If you’ve been promoted from inside of the team, you also have to balance the shift in team expectations and behavior as well as your own.
Here are a few tips on how to transition into the new role effectively.

1. Be coachable. 

What’s the number one reason we see new leaders fail? They aren’t coachable. You’re going to want to do things the same way you did before. It’s probably not going to work. In your desire to be successful, you may lose sight of your own development needs. Don’t run yourself – and your team –  into a wall. If there is one thing we can advise as you become an effective leader, it’s this: Be open to feedback. You may not take it all on board, but you have to be listening to learn and you have to learn to grow in a leadership role. Find someone in your personal or professional life who represents the leader you want to be and reach out for counsel. Your mentors and advisors will be key to your long-term professional growth. There’s also feedback for your team to consider. We recommend frequent, informal feedback sessions rather than more traditional annual reviews. Frequent, more casual conversations are easier to navigate than formal reviews if you’re new to the job. Start by recognizing what’s working well.  It’s a good way to practice giving good, structured feedback and creates a foundation for a performing team.  At the end of each conversation, document the key points in writing and share it with the employee. Email is fine if you don’t have a template to follow. During the coaching conversation, be sure to recognize team members areas of expertise, ask for their opinion and give them credit for their achievements. And remember that feedback is not a one-way street.  Ask your team for feedback on how you’re doing as well.

2.  Trust people.

If you’re going to be an effective leader, you have to trust your team. It’s critical, especially during organizational change. You can’t know everything about everything. If you try, you will fail – maybe not immediately, but eventually. Micromanaging devolves into a plate spinning act that you can’t control. You have to learn to delegate. Take some time to figure out who is great at what. An effective leader knows how to read people and figure out who they can trust to get the job done. When we’re working with clients on their organizational change projects, we typically plan on 60-90 days to assess leadership and employee capabilities. Creating a culture of trust is an important part of that assessment and process design, where we’re establishing the mind-set, delivery standards and communication channels that reinforce trust internally. A corollary to this is that new leaders, and their teams need to keep their eye on the ball. You need to know who is and is not ‘the enemy’. Who’s the enemy? The enemy is the challenge in front of you that is putting your success at risk. It might be another company competing for market share, new technology affecting productivity, a changing regulatory landscape, or even unexpected customer demands that you have to meet. You want to know who is NOT the enemy? Your team. If you’ve got their back, they’ll have yours. Stop fighting inside of the house.

3. Play to strengths.

Let others know what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. Ask your team to do the same.  A great team is one that leverages everyone’s strengths, not just the leader’s. Your strengths assessment criteria will depend on your organizational goals, but typically, we focus on three key categories:
  • Technical skills: What do they need to know to successfully meet the essential functions of the job? Technical skills vary widely depending on the job, but if the 10’000 hour rule applies, then this is what you’re looking for.  Keep in mind that as people grow in their careers, technical skills requirements generally drop as behavioral requirements increase. If you’re still evaluating your top leaders largely based on their programming skills, we have a problem.
  • Behavioral competencies: What soft skills or behaviors do they need to succeed? If technical skills are all about what the job is that needs to be done, then behavioral competencies are all about how that job gets done. As people advance, even as individual contributors or subject matter experts, we tend to see the need for soft skills and emotional intelligence to increase. For people managers, at some point, the importance of soft skills will outweigh the technical expertise in getting the job done effectively.
  • Cultural Fit: No matter where our a person sits on the organizational chart, if they aren’t a culture fit, chances are that they are not going to be successful in your organization, at least in the long-term. The problem is that culture fit is hard to pin down but we try to answer two key questions when conducting assessments or designing performance development systems for our clients:
    1. How does the individual demonstrate the company’s Core Values?
    2. What are the individual Driving Forces or Motivators and how does their role help them to fulfill those drivers?
  What else do you think is important to being an effective leader? We’d love to hear from you!  

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