This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.
Leadership is the process of directing and influencing the tasks of group members. Leadership must involve other people – staff or followers. It is the act of working with and through others to achieve objectives.
Self-confidence is not the real secret of leadership. The more essential ingredient is confidence in other people. Leadership involves motivating others to produce their finest efforts and channeling those efforts in a coherent direction. As a leader you must believe you can count on other people to come through. If you think you can rely only on yourself while focusing on other people’s inadequacies, you undermine confidence and reinforce losing streaks. In contrast, when leaders believe in other people, the confidence of those people grows and winning becomes more attainable. The job of all leaders involves fostering straight talk, clearly communicating expectations, and making information transparent and accessible, according to Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School.
In an effective group, members understand and support the leader role. Defining this role includes deciding what kinds of decisions you as leader are involved in and to what extent, what kinds of group tasks you as leader perform, how you as leader help the group obtain resources and manage the boundaries with the rest of the organization, and how you help group members manage conflict.
By their willingness to accept directions from you as leader, group members help define your status and make the leadership process possible. Without staff, your leadership qualities would be irrelevant.
In addition to being legitimately able to give directions to staff or followers, you can also wield influence. In other words, you can tell your staff what to do and also can influence how the staff members carry out their instructions.
Your effectiveness as a leader depends largely on your aptitude for leadership and your willingness to fulfill and complete the leadership role. Your main leadership tasks are:
Each of the tasks requires you to develop open communication, effective listening skills and the ability to give and receive feedback. You need these qualities because your team members need to understand where they are going and what they can achieve individually and as a group.
Terms like ‘establishing focus’, ‘developing others’ and ‘empowering others’ sound fine in principle, but what do they mean in practice?
Establishing focus is the ability to develop and communicate goals in support of the organizational mission. As leader, you ensure your branch develops a strategy and goals to help fulfill the organizational mission; you act to align your branch’s goals with the organizational mission; you ensure your team members understand how their work relates to the organizational mission; and you ensure all team members understand and identify with your branch’s mission.
Developing others is the ability to delegate responsibility, and to work with others and coach them to develop their capabilities. As leader, you provide helpful feedback about each team members’ specific actions and behaviors; you give them assignments that will help develop their abilities; you regularly meet with them to review their development progress; you recognize and reinforce their developmental progress; and you express confidence in their ability to be successful.
Empowering others is the ability to convey confidence in your employees’ ability to be successful, especially at challenging new tasks; delegating significant responsibility and authority; and allowing employees freedom to decide how they will achieve their goals and resolve issues. By empowering them, you give people latitude to make decisions in their own area of work; you let others make decisions and take charge where appropriate; you encourage individuals and teams to set their own goals consistent with corporate goals; and you encourage teams to provide their own solutions to resolve problems.
Managing performance is the ability to take responsibility for your own performance or your employees’ performance by setting clear goals and expectations, tracking progress against the goals, ensuring feedback, and addressing performance problems and issues promptly. As leader, you ensure all your employees have clear goals and responsibilities; you work with employees to set and communicate performance standards that are specific and measurable; you support employees in their efforts to achieve job goals by providing resources, removing obstacles and acting as a buffer to impediments; you stay informed about employees’ progress and performance through formal methods (eg progress reports) and informal methods (management by walking around); you provide specific performance feedback, both positive and corrective, as soon as possible after an event; and you deal firmly and promptly with performance problems, letting people know what is expected of them.
Developing teamwork is the ability to demonstrate interest, skill and success in getting the team to work together. As team leader, you provide opportunities for people to learn to work together as a team; you achieve the active participation of everyone; you promote cooperation with other teams, you ensure all team members are treated fairly; and you recognize and encourage the behaviors that contribute to teamwork.
Using good interpersonal awareness is the ability to notice, interpret and anticipate team members’ concerns and feelings, and to communicate this awareness empathetically to others. As leader, you understand the workplace interests and important concerns of others; you notice and accurately interpret the feelings of others; you anticipate how others will react to a situation; you listen attentively to people’s ideas and concerns; you understand the strengths and weaknesses of others; you understand the unspoken meaning in a situation; you say or do things to address others’ concerns; you find non-threatening ways to approach others about sensitive issues; and you make others feel comfortable by responding in ways that convey interest in what they have to say.
Each of the tasks requires you as leader to develop open communication, effective listening skills and the ability to give and receive feedback. You need these qualities to relate to your team because your team needs to understand where they are going and what they can achieve individually and as a group.
A respected US study in 2004 found that leaders who regularly ask for input are seen as increasing in effectiveness. Leaders who don’t follow up are not necessarily bad leaders; they are just not seen as getting better. The study of 11,480 managers who participated in leadership development activities found:
“Time and again one variable emerged as central to the achievement of positive long-term change: the participants’ ongoing interaction and follow-up with colleagues. Leaders who discussed their own improvement priorities with their co-workers, and then regularly followed up with these co-workers, showed striking improvement.” 2
Image: World Economic Forum 'COVID Action Platform.' More details in the 'Resources' section below. The effects of the catastrophic COVID-19
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