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6 Tips To Become a Better Leader

Molly Triffin  |  May 16, 2023

Being a leader doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Here are six tips on how you can become a better leader.

Hillary Clinton. Ursula Burns. Mary Barra. Indra Nooyi. What makes some leaders so successful they reach guru-like status, while others never gain traction? Is it a wicked high IQ? Amazing charisma? Killer contacts?

Maybe. Or maybe it’s something they worked hard on becoming. If being a stronger, more effective leader is your goal, here are six tips to follow.

1. Be Consistent

One of the largest leadership studies ever was conducted by Barry Conchie, president of the executive leadership research and consulting firm Conchie Associates. He interviewed more than 20,000 people worldwide to find out what employees most admire in the bosses they respect. The number one characteristic: the ability to communicate stability.

In other words, you need to learn how to assure your team that no matter what happens, your core values will never waiver. “If people sense that your values are dispensable, you will seem shallow,” says Conchie.

When things are running smoothly, chances are you do this automatically. It’s harder to do when the firm is going through hardship. But this is when you need to put in extra effort to show your employees that certain tenets still hold true. “This could be a company-wide commitment — say, that you’ll always go the extra mile for clients — or it could be on a micro level, like a frontline supervisor who promises to consult her team before making a big decision,” Conchie explains.

Hone your ideals so that you’re clear about where you stand, and work to get that across in everyday messaging with your team.

2. Play Nice

The old adage goes, You attract more flies with honey. In other words, be kind. “If you don’t exude a sense of caring for the people who work for you, then they won’t care for you very much,” says Conchie. “Managers who truly appreciate their team reap a huge reciprocal benefit.”

Being a kind leader will not only motivate your team to work hard for you, but also empower them to accomplish more. Conchie’s study found that compassion has a massive correlation to low turnover rates and strong employee engagement.

Also, try spending face-time with each employee — even a little bit can go a long way. “The average leader spends so little one-on-one time with people and shows very little curiosity in their lives,” says Conchie. “Find out what’s going on with them on a personal level.”

3. Be Trustworthy

You probably wouldn’t date someone who wasn’t being honest with you, right? Trust is just as important in the workplace. Conchie’s research found that trust in a leader increased employee engagement sixfold, and boosted the speed and efficiency at which people worked.

“Leadership isn’t automatically bestowed upon you once you attain a certain title, nor can it be conferred on you by your boss,” says Conchie. “You get true authority to lead from the people who follow you. Your team will commit to you if you tell them the truth, don’t surprise them, and share information.” 

Becoming a trustworthy leader doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, but work to ensure your employees know that you’ll follow through on your promises and that you operate with transparency. “Trust boils down to behaving in a predictable way all of the time,” says Conchie. “Do exactly what you say you will, without fail.”

Similarly, develop methodical systems to deal with issues that arise. When participants were asked if they could reliably anticipate the actions of their leader in any circumstance, some employees agreed that they always had a clear idea of what the plan would be. Others described mercurial managers who would change their mind on a whim. It made all the difference.

Building trust also means laying the facts on the table. Be clear about how you’ll move forward in any situation. “Don’t try to protect people from the truth,” Conchie says. “Instead, see it as a shared journey that you’re navigating together.” That’s how camaraderie — and trust — develops.

MORE: How to form true connections at work

4. Look on the Bright Side

Former President Obama’s presidential slogan “Yes we can” was so powerful because it instilled hope and optimism in people. And that’s exactly what strong leaders are able to do. “They impart a sense that the future will be better than the present,” says Conchie. In his research, 75% of people whose leaders made them feel enthusiastic about the future were engaged at work, compared to only eight percent with less inspiring supervisors.

To put this into practice, begin by asking yourself and your team what they’re excited to achieve. “This isn’t Pollyanna thinking,” cautions Conchie. “It’s about sitting down with a purpose and saying we can improve things by doing XYZ.” Then build meetings around those issues, coming up with a realistic plan.

One last tip: During regular staff meetings, close with a galvanizing idea, like a project where employees can really make a difference. Make sure every team member walks out the door believing that they can contribute in a positive way.

5. Make Other People Successful

The stronger your team, the more powerful your own reach. “Consider what the strengths of your employees are and how you can unlock each person’s potential,” says Joanna Barash, author of How Remarkable Women Lead. She suggests scheduling a one-on-one meeting with each employer so that you can gain an understanding of their skills. Ask questions like:

  • What tasks in your everyday life do you find yourself getting so engrossed in that you lose track of time?
  • What activities filled you with energy and excitement as a kid?
  • What qualities do you value in yourself as a child, in high school, in college, and now?

Not only will you learn which tasks your employees find most satisfying, but it might also open your eyes to new areas of talent yet to be developed. For example, if an employee recalls her tremendous creativity as a young child, consider including her in an upcoming brainstorming session to bring fresh thinking to the table.

“When people feel valued and listened to, they are motivated and engaged at work,” says Barash. What’s more, a University of California, Riverside study found that the more positively managers viewed employees, the better their performance.

6. Own Your Decisions

There’s a crucial mindset shift that has to take place in order to become a successful leader: Instead of thinking of yourself as a passive employee doing your job within the constraints of your position or organization, take responsibility for the direction you’re headed. 

“Leaders exude confidence, action, and a sense of purpose that we all want to follow,” says Barash. “Even if there are things you can’t change, recognize that you always have a choice.”

To begin taking ownership of your career path, have a vision for what you want to accomplish. “Start by becoming aware of how you feel throughout the day,” says Barash. “Physically, are you energetic, focused, and rested? On an emotional level, are you happy and hopeful? Spiritually, are you working on stuff that matters to you?” If you have any negative symptoms, use those as clues to investigate what’s holding you back and where to go next.

Don’t hesitate to enlist close friends to help you see things in perspective as well. Talk to those you know will be objective and not just sympathize with you.

“Leaders think deeply about their thoughts and feelings so that they understand what’s driving them,” says Barash. “Then they choose to make a shift in a direction that will allow them to thrive.”

The hope is that you’ll be able to figure out what matters most to you and how to move closer to that.

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