As part of the careers campaign we spoke to Meg Burton about the principles of developing strong leadership skills. Meg is an executive coach and leadership facilitator with 17 years’ experience working with business people across the leadership spectrum – from those just starting out to established senior leaders.
For many, taking on a managerial role is part of their natural career progression. But not everyone makes an effective leader. Here we’ll explore why.
If we take a look at the at the literature exploring the differences between leadership and management we see that ‘management’ is typically about managing resources, doing the task and getting things done. Leadership, on the other hand, is much more strategic in nature, and very much future focused.
'You rarely find someone who is just a manager, or just a leader. To be successful as a modern day leader you need to do both, you need to be leading and managing.'
The characteristics of a good leader are set by the values of an individual and the organisation they work for. Every person is different and every organisation has a unique culture and set of values. Essentially being a good leader is defined by how we manage people.
However, there are some skills we can all develop that will enhance our individual leadership skills:
Lack of experience: Individuals newly appointed into a leadership position will typically have specialist knowledge and task-based expertise but may lack the experience necessary to lead a team. Here support and training is vital – and many newly promoted leaders don’t get enough of it. They are forced to learn on the job and that isn’t always the best way.
Letting go: Sometimes when we start out as leaders we struggle with letting go and delegating work to the team. The secret of success here is building trust. Get to know your team. Understand the skills and knowledge of each individual; their strengths and development areas and how they can contribute. Delegation then becomes a much easier process.
Any type of leadership role will be demanding, so it’s important to take a balanced approach; decide what’s important and focus on that. A large part of your role will be ‘management’ so the time you apportion to this critical discipline should be reflective of the scale of the task.
A collaborative approach is essential if you are to get the most from your team. Understand individual members on a professional and personal level. In doing this correctly you’re more able to create a highly motivated team full of people who trust one another, and to build a pleasant working environment where everyone can contribute to team success.
Setting up an expectations exchange with each member of your team, whether you’ve just started or have been established for a long period of time, is a brilliant starting point to understanding your team. This is simply conversation to discuss both employee and manager expectations.
Providing a solid foundation for a relationship is simply a matter of asking questions:
By understanding more about your team members you can adapt your management style to suit them.
Make everyone feel valued
'I help put a man on the moon'- NASA janitor
Creating a strong working ethos can be done by helping each member of your team understand the contribution they make. Giving meaningful thanks and praise is the most effective way to do this. This isn’t simply about offering ‘thanks’ or ‘well done’, it’s more than that. It’s about being specific; ‘thank you, because…’ ‘well done because’, ‘great job because’, ‘brilliant result because’. Giving the reason for the praise really helps individuals to see that their hard work has been recognised and motivate them to do more of it.
The same principles should apply to opinions and ideas. Typically your team has lots of ideas, but may not put them forward. Asking team members for their ideas and opinions can help to make them feel valued. Really listening to these ideas and showing you’re interested in what they have to say, followed by actually implementing these ideas, or giving constructive feedback on why they couldn’t be used also enhances this experience and encourages them to keep innovating.
Being an effective leader and manager is down to the relationships that you establish with your team; the better the relationships, the better the quality of work that will be produced. And the happier the working environment will be.