How Effective Leaders Encourage Their Teams to Move Forward
In today's constantly changing business environment, it is essential that an organization has capable management. Elevating ‘capable management’ into ‘strong leadership’ can create an incredible competitive advantage for individuals and the organization. As management's ability to provide and track workforce tasks, conditions, and standards has become more sophisticated with every new technological development, so too has the importance of how an organization’s leader uses that data flow to provide leadership.
No amount of automation coupled with technological advances can bring about the results of having a strong leader at the head of a team. Leaders exhibit many traits and varying styles, but certain fundamentals are essential for them to be the most effective at guiding and motivating their people to achieve goals.
For leaders to be successful at building and developing their teams, they have to remain authentic to themselves while providing a clear vision; be exemplary in motivating their teams; explain the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of proposed actions; demonstrate a learning mindset that addresses issues and challenges with a ‘can do’ approach; and exhibit decisiveness rather than hesitation which can lead to confusion.
No matter what style they use or how they go about their tasks, all of these characteristics are essential for effective leadership. Let’s examine each one of these components.
Have a Vision
Leaders must have a vision. By rule, this vision has to be more encompassing than anything a leader could accomplish or articulate alone. The leader can only implement this vision with the involvement of team members. This overarching sense of purpose provides the leader with the ability to guide their teams by explaining specifically what everyone is attempting to achieve together to accomplish the vision.
A leader must be able to simultaneously break up into component parts and piece together their vision for the team. This allows the team to better delegate and coordinate tasks among its various members, as well as allowing the team members to have more relatable and understandable tasks.
When leaders have visions with breadth and depth – which they must – it is possible for them to overwhelm some of the other stakeholders. Breaking it down makes it more reasonable. It clarifies exactly what the individual roles are and how each team member is expected to contribute to the overall effort. Having this large and, at the same time, broken-down vision provides a more understandable purpose for the team's efforts. Plus leaders can more efficiently assign tasks and provide individual guidance and feedback for the project participants.
It’s imperative that the vision is communicated consistently, clearly and inclusively. Effective leaders find ways to persuade stakeholders of the vision’s authenticity while concurrently directing and assisting their people to accomplish the identified individual pieces of the overall vision and mission.
Set the Example
Leaders provide the ultimate example of what is expected of their people. The leader's actions will be reflected by their people, often magnified in intensity. A primary example of this is the leader's level of positive engagement and enthusiasm with a project. A leader with lower levels of engagement and enthusiasm will possibly find immediate disengagement and lack of support from their team members. Team members are likely to disengage themselves from the project and show much lower drive for excelling at their tasks, thereby obstructing the vision.
Leading by example builds trust. In order for a leader to inspire trust from their people, they must also trust their subordinates. Leadership's actions are contagious – for better or worse. Over time, a dedicated leader who exhibits trust will create loyalty, engagement, and retention with their team members.
Additionally, an effective leader needs to be able to address any question, concern, or other issue raised by any team member. A leader's resolve to find solutions to unanticipated challenges is immediately apparent to team members. As a rule, a leader should never assign tasks without intimate knowledge of what that task entails and how it can be successfully completed. Any questions presented by team members must be responded to reasonably and clearly.
A leader's ability to provide strong guidance and facilitate a task builds immense trust and rapport with their people. The more knowledgeable a leader is, the better the team members can view themselves as involved in this relationship. It may be built even stronger if the leader has experience with the particular task or has been in the position prior to becoming the leader.
Provide the What, How, and Why
A leader must provide the what, how, and why of a particular project. The “what” and “how” are essential. What is the specific project? How do we go about accomplishing it? Management provides the facilities, tools, skills and possible time estimates needed to accomplish the larger organizational vision. Effective management is able to define, assign, and track tasks across a variety of larger missions. This promotes close attention to them.
The “why” is what separates strong leadership from everyday routinized management. Management can always provide the “what” and “how” and is becoming increasingly effective at doing so with new technologies and capabilities being built into organizations. Strong leaders provide the “why” – the underlying rationale for the team's mission. Communicating clearly the “why” inspires workers to enthusiastically perform their assigned tasks and goals for more than just their paychecks.
Great leaders are able to provide the answers to questions like “Why is this project important?”, “Who does it ultimately affect?”, and “How does it contribute to the overall success of the organization?”. The answers to these questions fill in the vision for their teams while creating connections at emotional and thoughtful levels for the team members and their parts of the organization's mission.
Adopt a Learning Mindset
A leader must have three levels of knowledge – self, internal, and external – regarding their vision and its component pieces.
They must be well aware of their strengths as well as weaknesses, what skills they clearly have, and what areas they might be looking to improve upon.
Secondly, a leader must have complete knowledge of their project. They must know the internal factors, what the project benefits are, what is required for its completion, and what standards must be met using the available tools.
This set of knowledge is essential. This area also includes what capabilities, skills, and what limitations are possessed by the team members. This allows a leader to assess and assign individual tasks more effectively, and find future development opportunities within their team. What is their project? What affects it directly?
Lastly, a leader must know what identifiable external factors play into their vision. This includes reporting and responsibility to any higher offices, other stakeholders, competitors, as well as the market and economy in which the organization functions.
All of these items are shifting and this includes unanticipated variables. A leader must be continually learning and developing not only themselves but also their knowledge of the internal and external areas around them. A leader must be able to fill in the gaps in their own knowledge while being mindful of others' input – and no source should go unacknowledged. An effective leader is capable of listening to divergent views of team members and giving them serious consideration. A leader must then be able to adapt their vision to new developments, ideas, and criteria.
Make a Decision
In any circumstance, a leader must have the capacity to make a decision. Indecisiveness – or the perception of it – can lead to disillusionment and loss of trust of their people, which in turn can spread to stagnation or project failure. Leaders who are always looking for more information or who may not trust the process to ever be completed are at the highest risk for this situation.
In the end, it is almost always better to make a poor or less than perfect decision than none at all. An ‘inaction’ is an action, after all. Action leads to consequences that may then be reexamined and learned from to create a more robust second iteration. The rule here is to not make any uninformed or uneducated decisions and to make sure that a decision is being made using all available resources and information materials. Excess hesitation or indecision must be avoided.
Some delay in order to create alternative plans of action, openly discuss potential consequences, consider fresh ideas from team members or find new information is good – but a leader must be sure to not be excessive. While research is always important, too much can provide information that is counterproductive or possibly biased. Acting and making a decision while moving forward can provide a better assessment and more robust information than extensive talk and debate by team members.
One tip for leaders who find themselves stuck may be to try their decisions on a limited basis or in a specifically controlled area. These test markets or beta tests can provide and help ensure a project's success much more than trying to time an overt move or trying to make sure that all decisions made have a valid background. Finally, leaders must remain responsible for all aspects of any decision that they make. Leaders bear this responsibility willingly and without hesitation.
The traits I’ve discussed are essential for an effective leader and transcend any particular underlying style or technique. A leader must be consistent with all of them while remaining authentic to their individual personality traits.
Consistency is key: a leader's people must be engaged in achieving the vision while receiving ongoing feedback about all aspects of their efforts. They must be made knowledgeable about how their contributions affect the overall scope of what is being achieved. Through this, a sense of responsibility and commitment can be cultivated, allowing leaders to guide their teams to accomplish and possibly exceed the ultimate goal.
In the end, leadership is simultaneously a consistent and developmental process. With every project’s completion, there are lessons to be learned that can be applied to future projects and provide personal and professional growth for the team members and its leader.
It is imperative that a thorough project review is conducted. There can be ongoing reviews but most certainly a concluding review is mandatory. This review is a vital part of the learning process and should include a 360° comprehensive view of the project from the leader’s perspective as well as from all team members.
This concluding review should include the unbiased, open and encompass information from everyone on the team as to what went right, what did not, and what can be done to improve for possible future projects. Project review discussions should be recorded and then transcribed into a summary document that is shared with all team members.
This review process can promote a learning mindset to be developed by the leader and the team members involved in accomplishing the mission. I have found this review to consistently be one of the more powerful – and often ignored – tools for a leader to build their own skills as well as their team's ability and competencies to embark upon and accomplish future missions.