Career Advice

What Makes a Good Leader in the Workplace?

From driving profits to increasing employee retention, great leaders can immensely benefit an organization. Learn the top qualities of effective leaders here.

Michael Yan
Published: (Updated: ) - 9 min read
Michael Yan is the co-founder & CEO of Simplify. Previously a software engineer at Meta, Michael dropped out of Stanford to found Simplify. He is a part-time career coach & Y Combinator alum.

Photo by Razvan Chisu / Unsplash

If your goal is to reach a leadership position one day, doing your best work and qualifying for the promotion is only part of the journey. Developing the skills and qualities required are just as important. That’s why, in this post, we’ll be looking at the key aspects of effective leadership that you can start putting into practice in the workplace now whether you’re in a leadership role already, or not.

1. Open Communication

A 2018 study from The Economist’s Intelligence unit showed what most of us know already: when communication breaks down in the workplace, the consequences are extensive. While many factors can contribute to this issue, there’s no doubt about it that good communication often starts at a leadership level.  Strong communication means that team members feel more comfortable expressing their views and ideas, leading to better collaboration and innovation

Effective leaders know not to shy away from difficult conversations. They understand that honest communication is a must if the team is going to work together effectively and efficiently. Leaders should also strive to create an environment in which everyone’s voice is heard, regardless of rank or seniority. It’s important to foster an atmosphere of collaboration and open dialogue so that employees can share their insights and ideas freely.

2. Invest in Employee Growth

As Steve Jobs once said, “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” That’s why it’s so important that leaders remember that their role in the work environment isn’t simply to oversee their employees but to support their career growth too and make sure they reach their full potential.

Leaders can invest in their employees by offering continuous learning opportunities and mentorship. They should be open to hearing any ideas from team members, encouraging them to be creative and think outside the box. They should consider their team members to be a valuable asset and strive to give them the tools they need to succeed.

What are some ways to support and promote the development of your employees?

  • Provide training and development opportunities: Offer courses, workshops, or conferences to help employees acquire new skills and knowledge.
  • Give constructive feedback: Regularly provide employees with feedback on their performance, strengths, and areas for improvement, delivered in an empathetic and supportive manner.
  • Offer mentorship programs: Pair employees with more experienced mentors to help guide their development.
  • Recognize achievements: Acknowledge and reward employees for their hard work, achievements, and contributions to the team.
  • Provide opportunities for advancement: Offer career development plans, opportunities for advancement, and promotions to help employees reach their full potential.

3. Give Honest and Constructive Feedback

One of the best ways to invest in employee growth is through the hard task of giving honest, constructive feedback. People need to know what their weaknesses are if they’re ever going to develop further. This is also where effective communication skills come into play. As a leader, you have to find a way to give feedback from a place of empathy so that your employee doesn’t feel backed into a corner and instead, leaves the conversation with the tools and motivation to do better.

Giving feedback in the workplace should be a regular event and can come in different forms. It can be as simple as having a weekly meeting with each of your employees to discuss their performance and objectives. Or it can be a full-on formal 360 degree review. The important thing is that it’s done regularly and that everyone knows what to expect. Investing in employee growth through constructive feedback is crucial for development and requires effective communication skills.

4. Ask for Feedback

Feedback works best when it goes both ways. If you as a leader are open to listening to different perspectives and opinions on your own performance, it shows that you’re willing to hold yourself to the same standards you hold others to. This demonstrates self-confidence while also building a sense of transparency and mutual respect within your team. It’s like any relationship, if you’re asking the other person to be open to feedback, you need to be able to return the favor. That kind of integrity is a key quality of strong leaders.

Asking for feedback is an important part of effective leadership because it shows that you value the opinions of your team. When employees know that their feedback is taken seriously, this helps to build a strong connection and trust between the leader and their team members. It also demonstrates that the leader is open to learning and growth, which can be an inspiring example for the team to follow.

An innovative leader who incorporates feedback into their decision-making process is much more likely to succeed than a leader who is closed-off and unwilling to listen to different perspectives. In today's rapidly changing business landscape, being an empathetic and responsive leader sets apart a good leader from a bad one.

Feedback is a vital tool for success in the workplace, improving performance, facilitating growth, enhancing communication, increasing motivation, and boosting employee engagement.

5. Embrace Change

Things are going to change, whether it’s the market, the people you work with, or the projects you’re faced with. Nothing is ever set in stone and the most successful leaders not only know this, they’re prepared for it. As new technologies and ideas come into play, you need to be prepared to stay open to all of it and embrace the opportunities change can offer.

Leaders play a vital role in ensuring that their team is equipped to handle the change. They should be supporting their employees to stay up to date with industry trends and to remain motivated and focused. They should also be willing to adjust their leadership strategies and tactics as needed, in order to stay agile and keep up with the times. If you can confidently lead your team through change, you’ll be an invaluable asset to your organization.

6. Set Clear Goals

It’s somewhat of a cliché to think of a workplace leader as the captain of a ship but truly, it’s your vision that guides how your team spends its time. When you set goals, it not only helps guide the priorities of your team members, it’s also far more likely to inspire hard work than if the path ahead is left undefined. Clear objectives can often help a team to see their common goals and in turn, build a stronger sense of community.

It's also important to set measurable objectives so that everyone can track and see the progress being made towards the goal. By setting clear goals and communicating them effectively, great leaders can inspire their team to come together towards a common mission and to be as productive as possible.

What are SMART goals and how can they be effectively utilized?

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound goals that provide a clear framework for defining and achieving success. SMART goals can be effectively utilized in the following ways:

  1. Specific: Clearly define what you want to achieve and make it as specific as possible.
  2. Measurable: Include quantifiable metrics to track progress and determine when the goal has been achieved.
  3. Achievable: Make sure the goal is realistic and attainable within the given time frame.
  4. Relevant: Ensure the goal is aligned with your overall mission and priorities.
  5. Time-Bound: Set a deadline for when the goal should be achieved.

By setting SMART goals, individuals and organizations can focus their efforts and resources, track progress, and adjust their approach as needed. This helps ensure that goals are achievable and that time and resources are being used effectively.

7. Delegate Tasks

It’s tricky learning to trust that the people who work under you can take over certain tasks, but being able to do it is one of the key traits of a great leader. If you constantly refuse to let anyone else take on the things you’re not managing, not only do you risk overbooking yourself and missing deadlines, you show your team that you don’t think they’re good enough to help. Worse still, it suggests that you’re not confident enough to ask for help when you need it.

Efficient leaders know that they can't do it all themselves and that delegation is an essential part of running a successful business. By empowering your team with important tasks, you’ll not only be able to have some breathing room, but you’ll also be able to build their confidence and help them grow.

8. Handle All Situations with a Positive Attitude

This is a difficult one but the ability to maintain a positive attitude, even on the hardest days is one of those essential leadership qualities. We’re not talking about being annoyingly upbeat and smiley all the time, we’re talking about simply maintaining a positive mindset. Your beliefs about a situation will shape how your team handles it too. If they see that the boss can still hold their head up, it will give them the strength to do the same. Things won’t always go right, but a positive attitude will help you stay calm and see the learnings for next time.

Being positive also has a huge effect on the morale of the team. It’s difficult to be productive and motivated when the team is surrounded by a defeatist attitude. With energy and enthusiasm, you can help lift the mood and make sure everyone is operating at the top of their game.

Are you curious about the significance of soft skills in the workplace? Check out our blog here to learn more!

9. Continued Learning and Education

The world of business is changing rapidly, and staying on top of current trends is essential not only for personal growth, but also for the growth of an entire business. Great leaders understand this and make sure they’re reading, taking courses and attending events to stay up to date.

Continual learning also sets an example to the team. It shows that you’re not afraid of putting yourself out there and learning new skills and it sends the message that everyone should be striving to reach their potential. Taking advantage of educational opportunities like seminars and conferences can help you stay ahead of the curve and inspire the same kind of thinking within your team. Ultimately, this will lead to better results for everyone.

10. Be Trustworthy and Honest

As we’ve seen in recent years, even the CEOs of multi-billion-dollar organizations are answerable to investors and have to hold onto a bit of humility. Practicing trustworthiness and honesty through your actions is a sign of great leadership. It not only gives you credibility, it encourages the same from the people you work with. It also makes it easier for workers to be honest with you when they have ideas or disagree with decisions

You need to be able to confidently make decisions based on facts and not on ego or what’s convenient. Being able to look at the situation objectively and make a judgment call that’s right for everyone is a sure sign of an effective leader.

Moreover, being transparent and open with your team, whether it's about your own performance or the performance of the company, helps build a sense of trust and respect. This allows for open and honest communication, leading to better decision making and improved overall performance. Good leaders understand the importance of humility and recognizing that they don't have all the answers. They are open to feedback and suggestions from their team, and they are willing to admit when they are wrong. This level of honesty and accountability sets a strong example for others to follow and helps create a positive work environment where everyone is encouraged to do their best.

11. Think Outside the Box

As a leader with good communication skills, you can help guide your team and individual career paths in the right direction. Creating a personal connection and fostering a culture of gratitude can go a long way in promoting positivity in the workplace. Challenging the status quo and encouraging creative thinking can help set your team and company apart. Being a role model and exhibiting the behavior you wish to see in your colleagues is also essential.

Researching industry experts and staying up-to-date on the latest trends can help keep your mind sharp and maintain enthusiasm in your work setting. Whether you're a president, manager, or team leader, implementing these tips can help drive success and bring out the best in those around you.

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12. Accept Responsibility

Many thinkers, namely Brené Brown, have spoken about how important it is to see vulnerability as a brave and necessary part of leadership. One of the most vulnerable things a leader can do is resist the urge to play the blame game and instead, accept responsibility for their actions. Not only does it foster the same approach with others on a team, it ultimately portrays you as more reliable.

No leader is perfect and mistakes are a natural part of being a leader. Learning to own up when something doesn’t go as planned will actually earn you more respect than deflecting the blame or trying to cover it up. Taking responsibility encourages personal growth as well as company growth and will make you a leader who is looked up to and trusted.

13. Stay Flexible

As a good leader, being adaptable is one of the key leadership qualities that sets you apart from bad leaders. It showcases your problem-solving skills and ability to make difficult decisions in changing situations. The employee experience is also positively impacted as they see a true leader who is innovative and willing to go with the flow. This helps foster a culture of growth and innovation, which is essential in today's rapidly changing business landscape.

By staying flexible and using active listening, a good leader demonstrates their soft skills and empathy, making them a more effective and respected business leader. The ability to adapt and respond to change is a crucial aspect of good leadership and provides a foundation for the future success of any organization.

How to Build Your Leadership Skills

Leading a team is an incredibly rewarding and challenging experience. If you want to be an effective leader, it’s important to work hard to develop strong leadership qualities. The tips we’ve shared above are some great starting points for any aspiring leader. Just remember to stay humble, open-minded, and flexible, and you’ll be well on your way!

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