Leadership is about more than just how many people are working under you, or even what kind of numbers your team puts up. Instead, the real question of leadership is how you find a way to put your employees in a position to succeed and make them feel ready and able to jump on an opportunity when it comes along.
In a lot of ways, the culture of your team is going to reflect the behaviors that you model as a manager. If you consider yourself a great leader, you need to take a close look at how you’re showing your employees the behaviors you want them to emulate.
The keys to a team that is not just good but great are reliability, availability, open communication, and a positive and encouraging environment. By modeling the behaviors you want to see in others, you can infuse your workplace with an ethos that creates a creative and empowering atmosphere.
When these four traits are practiced and not just spoken about on a daily basis, the confidence and trust instilled in others become contagious.
1. Great Leaders Are Reliable
Reliability can seem like a given. Most of us follow through on the major things: delivering on deadlines, setting up that lunch meeting, or having a launch happen when it’s supposed to happen. The truth of the matter is that as humans we overestimate our abilities all of the time, there’s even a name for it in psychology: the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
When it comes to truly being thought of as a reliable person, it all comes down to the details. At its most basic level, being a reliable person means that everyone knows that if you say something will happen, it’ll happen. Even simpler: you keep your promises. When it comes to consistently making that happen, the danger is that you’re not aware of exactly how many promises you’re making. If you go back over your communications, ask yourself: am I following up in a consistent and predictable manner? Are there consistent guideposts for moving a project along without feeling rushed?
Reliability also has to do with managing expectations. If you overcommit or oversell something, you’ll take a hit later—fairly or not—when the actual experience doesn’t match what the team was expecting. Over-communicate, and be clear about what you know versus what you hope will happen. You never know what detail someone will latch onto, and if that doesn’t end up matching up with reality, you could be setting them up for a bitter disappointment.
2. Great Leaders Are Available
Your team needs to feel like they can come to you with any question they might have, big or small. What you don’t want is to have a barrier between you and your team. If employees are hesitant to bring things to your attention, it can lead to you being the last to know when something has gone off the rails. You wind up with a team that keeps their heads down and adapts a risk-averse mentality that stifles innovation.
Cultivating availability is about cultivating trust, which comes down to actions rather than words. You need to find ways to show that you’re checked-in and always ready to have a conversation. This isn’t about grand gestures (though a Friday team ice cream social or a well-stocked break room certainly isn’t a bad thing). Instead, concentrate on the little things. Commit yourself to learning one personal detail about each of your team members, and really work on remembering them so you can work them into casual conversation.
Taking the time to put yourself in more informal situations with your team also has the side benefit of inviting conversations that might not have otherwise happened. There are details that will come up that someone might not have thought were important enough to set up a meeting about, but that can help you to better understand the challenges your team faces.
3. Great Leaders Are Open Communicators
Reliability and availability are the foundations for building habits of open communication with your team. At its core, the key here is to have a high level of transparency in your decision-making, which means being clear about what challenges you face, offering the opportunity for feedback from your team, and then justifying your course of action.
If you trust in your own ability to make the best decisions for your team and for your business, then it makes perfect sense to give employees as much of that information as possible. Showing everyone the factors that were in play for a particular choice can help them identify with your point of view, and shows that you trust them to be able to judge for themselves how you’re doing.
Being transparent about what your company’s goals are and how a particular decision will help hit them will also infuse itself into your team’s day-to-day work. Even if they don’t necessarily have a say in those big decisions, they can think about how the work that they do is related, and make choices accordingly.
Being an open communicator also extends to feedback. If you can set your comments against the backdrop of your company’s overall goals and strategies, it’ll help contextualize your comments and help your team understand how they fit into the broader picture.
4. Great Leaders Are Encouraging
You don’t need to give everyone a participation trophy to be encouraging. Instead, it’s about fostering a positive attitude around work. When we give feedback we often feel like it’s our job to point out mistakes or places where there’s room for improvement. What often goes unsaid are the things that your team member is already doing well, and so all your employee hears is negativity.
Similarly, the concept of Negativity Bias tells us that we’re more likely to remember the negatives than the positives, and so it’s important to reinforce what went right even while acknowledging what could have gone better. It takes work to convince someone that they’ve done a good job. If you want your employees to feel empowered and motivated, you need to encourage them, and let them know exactly what they do well.
What You Can Do Right Now
Genuine leadership is a subtle art form and, if you want to be great, you constantly need to work to refine your skills. One of the most effective ways to lead is to model the traits and values you want to see reflected back in your team:
Focus on your follow through to show your reliability.
Find ways to make yourself more available to your team.
Practice transparency and open communication to show how each employee can contribute to the entire business.
Remember that a positive environment starts with your encouragement.