No matter what level of management you've achieved in your career, or what type of business you own, there is a vital set of skills you must master in order to progress to the next stage of your professional life: leadership skills.
While many basic leadership skills can be taught, there are some crucial qualities that may be more innate.
One of those is appreciation for other people, said Kathryn Dager, president of Profitivity Inc. and author of “The Business Owner's Guide to Empowered Leadership: Proven Strategies to Engage Employees, Inspire High Performance and Increase Sales Without Micromanaging." Because effective leadership requires collaboration, engagement and communication, doing it right just comes easier for people who like others.
Becoming an effective leader starts with a conscious decision to be the best you can be, said Stephen Spencer, manager of talent, strategy and leadership for City National Bank.
“A lot of managers find themselves in a leadership position without having intentionally thought about what they want to do as leaders," said Spencer.
Leadership is all about grounding yourself internally, having a vision and developing the confidence and humility to surround yourself with people who know more than you do, said Karin Hurt, co-founder of Let's Grow Leaders and co-author of “Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul," with her husband David Dye.
“There are a variety of external management styles, and people use different tools and techniques depending on where they are in their careers and where their employees are," said Hurt. “But it's important to align your values with your long-term and short-term goals and the relationships you want to foster."
Leadership experts have an array of techniques to improve outcomes and strengthen businesses, but for Spencer, there are three core skills that stellar leaders need to demonstrate. Not every leader is strong in all three areas, he said, but he believes all three skills can be taught.
To establish credibility, said Spencer, leaders need to have their actions aligned with their words.
“People pay attention to what you say and what you do," said Spencer. “They watch how you spend your time and notice what you do and don't reward people for. For example, if you talk about work-life balance but you work late at night all the time, then people will feel they have to work late and that you don't mean what you say."
A good example of modeling behavior is Southwest Airlines, said Spencer. The company wanted to shorten the turnaround time for their flights to 20 minutes. They recognized that this meant hiring people who could be flexible enough to help people with luggage, neaten the plane and interact with customers. The airline made sure to hire people for every position with a sense of humor and willingness to pitch in, from the pilots to the luggage handlers.
Some of the best leaders are those who have the desire to change and who consistently gather information and forecast general trends, said Spencer.
“Good leaders are curious, even about things that are not necessarily related to their work but that could have an impact on it in the future," he said. “They have the vision to get their business prepared for the future and the ability to inspire other people to become an innovative team."
Effective leaders like working with people and want to understand how people react to change and how to motivate them, said Spencer. They also understand the need to include people with different backgrounds and personalities and to figure out how to get everyone to work together.
“This one is the toughest to teach, but everyone needs at least a threshold level of empathy for others," said Spencer. “You can start with yourself, to understand your own personality, and then try to understand where others are coming from. Leaders need to make a conscious decision to lead and understand that they have to be in it for others, not just themselves."
An essential element of good leaders is humility, said Dager.
“It's not what you know that matters, it's what they know," she said. “Good leaders want to be responsible, but they don't want to do all the work themselves. They know what really matters is that their staff knows what to do and that their employees know what 'good work' looks like."
Shifting away from being the “star quarterback" to the “coach," said Dager, requires leaders to observe and reinforce good behavior.
“Some leaders go too far in coaching and shift to parenting style, in which they browbeat employees and tell them what they 'should' do," said Dager. “Instead, managers can be more successful if they ask their employees 'how are you going to do that?' rather than telling them what to do."
Empowering other people to gain new skills and then teach others is more important than being the “answer person" who knows everything, said Dager.
Leaders who have both confidence and humility and focus on results and relationships at the same time are what Hurt and Dye call “Winning Well" managers.
“People frequently get those values out of balance," said Dye. “For example, leaders who focus on results at the expense of relationships are what we call 'user' managers who leave a trail of bodies in their wake because they tend to be abusive, so people leave."
“Pleaser" managers, leaders who are overly focused on relationships and being liked and who have more humility than confidence, said Dye, are the most common type of leader.
“But 'pleaser' managers lack focus, so they don't get good results and their top performers leave," he said. “The third kind of out-of-balance manager we call a 'gamer' – someone focused entirely on their own status and survival who's willing to have their employees become human pinballs."
Once leaders have that balance of values, they can more easily strengthen the bonds with their managers and employees by establishing clear expectations about the most important goals and behaviors, said Hurt.
Learning to be an effective leader is an ongoing process for every business owner and manager, said Spencer, but when employees and leaders can communicate easily with each other, that's an indication that you're on the path to success.
This article is for general information and education only. It is provided as a courtesy to the clients and friends of City National Bank (City National). City National does not warrant that it is accurate or complete. Opinions expressed and estimates or projections given are those of the authors or persons quoted as of the date of the article with no obligation to update or notify of inaccuracy or change. This article may not be reproduced, distributed or further published by any person without the written consent of City National. Please cite source when quoting.