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How to Be an Effective Leader (A Step-By-Step Guide to Upgrade Your Leadership Skills)

How to Be an Effective Leader (A Step-By-Step Guide to Upgrade Your Leadership Skills)

Many of the most important and influential texts ever written, like Sun Tzu’s the Art of War, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, or even Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, are about leadership. With hundreds of books written about leadership, it would be easy to understand how to become an effective leader, but unfortunately that simply isn’t the case.

A leader has to be a person capable of juggling many huge demands at a time, they have to consider the opinions, needs, and wants of all around them. They need to be a person not only capable of making difficult decisions, but the right difficult decision. At the same time, they need to know how to look after their team, while pushing them forward to achieve greatness.

This article serves as an introduction to effective leadership and will give you a step by step guide on how to become an effective leader.

Is leadership in born?

Strong and capable leaders are rarely (if ever) born. Be skeptical of claims to the contrary.

Psychology research suggests that people become leaders through the process of teaching, learning and observation.[1]

If you put your preconceptions aside, you’ll clearly see that leadership skills aren’t inborn, but have to be learned by training, perception, practice and experience over time. And when we say over time – we really mean over a lifetime, as successful people never stop learning.

It’s true. Great leaders constantly seek out development opportunities that will help them learn new skills. If your goal is to become a leader – you should do the same.

How important is leadership?

There are great and inspiring leaders everywhere. Anywhere you see a team that works well together, a team that consistently works at their best no matter the pressure, a team of people that are confident and determined; you are seeing a team with a great leader.

What is the definition of a great leader?

  • A great leader can unite a group of people, each with their own goals and interests, and make them work together in synchronicity for a common goal.
  • A great leader is able to inspire confidence and resilience.
  • A great leader is open to the good ideas of others. They are good listeners and are open to learn from their team.

Ultimately, a great leader turns a group of people into a dependable, reliable, creative, motivated and effective unit.

But how does someone become a great leader?

First, learn about the basic traits as listed in the next part. And when you have mastered these traits, you’ll have to move on to the advanced level of skills to become an effective leader.

Basic traits to become a good leader

To develop your leadership skills, it’s best to pinpoint the areas that you feel you are not ‘up to par’ with, and strengthen them. To make this easy for you, I have a complete guide on all the most important leadership traits categorized into three areas:

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  • Self-development
  • Communication
  • Team engagement

In the guide, you will learn how to pick up all the basic leadership traits and behaviors. Check out the complete guide here:

14 Powerful Leadership Traits (That All Great Leaders Have)

Next, you will need to level up your leadership skills by understanding the different types of leadership.

Advanced skills to become an effective leader

The most effective leadership is not a single entity, or a single set of values or rules a person must have in order to lead people. There are multiple leadership styles each with their own benefits and rules. If you have learned the basic qualities of leadership, upgrade your leadership skills by identifying your leadership style and master it.

Find out the leadership style that best fits you in this flowchart:

      Pace-setting Leader

      A pace-setting leader focuses on targets and the speed with which said targets are being achieved. They set performance standards and schedules for the team to achieve goals and get the best results.

      Pace-setting leaders typically ensure the work is on schedule and reaches the goals quickly.

      Yet the biggest drawback of pace-setting leadership is being too predictable. Many pace-setting leaders overwhelm team members with deadlines, and harm their creativity as they rush to finish their work.

      As a result, this style works best when employees are highly motivated and already competent workers. This is also good if a clear schedule needs to be set for a specific set of tasks.

      In order to grow as a successful leader, pace-setters should ask for team members’ feedback often and give them space to work. Instead of focusing on deadlines, they should focus on the process of reaching quality work.

      Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, is a successful example of a pace-setter. Welch despised micro-managing and thought leaders needed to focus more on setting examples and deadlines. That’s the essence of a pace-setting leader.

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        Commanding Leader

        A commanding leader makes decisions alone and gives orders to members to achieve goals.

        A commanding leader can make decisions quickly. They don’t need to go through any discussions to come up with a decision most of the time. This saves time and is helpful especially during a crisis. Commanding leaders are often respected and are rarely challenged by the team.

        Unfortunately, commanding leaders often inhibit critical thinking and demoralize employees’ team spirit as their opinions are not valued under such leadership. Team members are there for execution; they do what they’re told, and only the commanding leader gets to drive a decision forward.

        Commanding leaders work best when quick decisions are to be made in a crisis or situation with inexperienced team members. As a result, many famed generals and politicians operating in times of strife fall into this category.

        Winston Churchill is an example of a commanding leader. Churchill was especially known as a powerful orator and man overall, and often was able to inspire others to action simply via his commanding speeches and viewpoint. As mentioned before, his great leadership was instrumental in the allied victory during the second world war.

          Visionary Leader

          Visionary leaders are able to see the bigger picture and set the overall goals for the team.

          This type of leader Inspires creativity and teamwork as team members are encouraged by the bigger end-goal of what they’re working on day-to-day. Jobs is one of the examples, but many tech company CEOs fit into this type too. Startup CEOs often frame product decisions around “saving the world”, and this is where the vision is found.

          The flip side of believing you’re working on something which will change/save the world is that it may inspire fanatical belief in the leader himself. Another potential flaw is its heavily context-dependent, in another word, the goal at the end. With a constant focus on making the world a better place, team members can sometimes lose focus on their day-to-day plan they need to execute.

          Visionary leaders are good in transition situations. Think about a new CEO coming in and immediately laying out the long-term vision for a place after the disgraced exit of his predecessor, the company and the employees benefit in this case.

          A visionary leader, though, does need lieutenants who can take their vision and translate it into day-to-day work for the rest of the organization. If it’s all vision and strategy with no tie to day-to-day execution, employees will get confused and ultimately leave.

          Steve Jobs built a company that completely changed multiple industries, and he did so by singularly looking at possibilities no one had ever considered. Imagine ten to twenty years before the first iPhone came out, if you had described that idea to your friend, they would probably have laughed you and thought you were a dreamer.

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            Democratic Leader

            Democratic leaders make decisions together with the team members—regardless of rank—and closely work together with the team to achieve for the best results.

            Democratic leadership is good for boosting team morale and improving relationships between leaders and members. An open environment encourages a constant stream of communication and idea exchange. For example, the idea of Gmail was brought to Google decision-makers by a lower-ranking staffer, as was the idea of AdWords. AdWords is a huge revenue driver for Google and it didn’t necessarily begin at the absolute top ranks, but the top ranks weren’t threatened when a new idea came about.

            However, the authority of a democratic leader may be easily challenged and cause inefficiency in decision making.  A collective decision-making process usually takes a longer time.

            Democratic leaders work best when team members are experienced and have strong knowledge in their functional area. Inexperienced members may be confused under such leadership, or wondered why their voice was sought after despite their lack of experience.

            John F. Kennedy was a successful democratic leader. When Kennedy handled the Bay of Pigs situation, he gave everyone in his circle a voice. The way he made decisions had changed decision-making for the modern era.[2]

              Affiliative Leader

              Affiliative leaders show warmth and acceptance to members and create emotional bonds with them.

              Because of the warmness provided, members feel safe and have a strong sense of belonging to the organization and perform better. Google has done studies of effective managers and found the No. 1 thing they provide is “psychological safety.” Affiliative leaders do that.

              Unfortunately, mediocre performances may be fostered under an affiliative leadership because it rarely puts team members under pressure. Some team members may feel they can coast on certain work because their managers will always support them.

              This leadership style works best in stressful situations or when team members’ morale is low. Typically, it’s used best together with other leading styles.

              The Dalai Lama brings people along with him and into a bigger picture of contentment and safety.

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                Coaching Leader

                Coaching leaders are mentors to the more inexperienced team members. They help the members to better their capabilities and performances by constantly providing them feedback.

                This creates a positive working environment where leaders and employees are constantly communicating. With the coaching leader’s guidance, team members grow and improve continuously.

                The downside of regular coaching is that it’s time-consuming. It also takes patience to coach each of the team members. In an organization that focuses on immediate results, coaching is not preferred because it takes time to see significant results.

                Coaching leaders work best with inexperienced employees who are eager to learn and grow. A leader who is proficient in convincing and influencing others will execute coaching leadership well.

                John Wooden, who won more NCAA basketball championships than any other coach, is a successful coaching leader. He had a very specific coaching model that focused on conveying information as opposed to course-correcting.[3]

                  Not all styles can be applied to every situation, and some people may be better at one style over another. If you use the right style at the right time, the effect can be substantial.

                  Bonus: Combine leadership styles

                  All these styles work well in specific situations, and oftentimes teams need a mix of the different leadership styles across different work teams and work projects.

                  The most successful organizations often have a mix of these leadership styles for teams and deliverables. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. The important thing is to understand where you fall, what your achievements and drawbacks are, and how you can grow or most benefit your team by considering adapting a slightly different leadership style.

                  Imagine that you are the leader of a small team. You have been given a problem to solve, and for a while you all have struggled over it. Suddenly you come up with a great idea solves the problem, but time is running out… what style of leadership do you choose?

                  You need to be flexible. Let’s try mixing a few styles:

                  • Visionary/ Commanding leader – Here, you have the goal in mind, as you have worked with your team before, you know their strengths and weaknesses, because of this, with your idea in mind, you are able to delegate tasks to each person depending on their strengths. You are able to successfully implement your idea.
                  • Coaching/ Pace-Setting Leader – You know not everyone fully understands your idea, but there are some that do. Those who understand it immediately begin to work while you bring the rest up to speed, soon you’re all working well together and your plan is implemented.

                  These two aren’t the only combinations that might work here, and sometimes they may not work at all. But the key is to know when to be flexible.

                  Ultimately, everyone has it in them to be a great and effective leader. It takes knowledge and practice sure, but if you are flexible and consider the many different forms of leadership out there, then you may find your skills as a leader, and the ultimate effectiveness of your team, grows and expands to greatness.

                  Featured photo credit: Freepik via freepik.com

                  Reference

                  More by this author

                  Leon Ho

                  Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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                  Last Updated on November 27, 2020

                  15 Office Design Tricks That Will Increase Your Productivity at Work

                  15 Office Design Tricks That Will Increase Your Productivity at Work

                  Where you work has an enormous impact on how you work – on your ability to focus (and stay focused) and your overall ability to be productive. That means the design of your office, whether you work at home or in a larger company environment, is of supreme importance. This isn’t just about Feng Shui, this is about producing results and getting things done.

                  According to studies done on workplace and productivity, the most significant factor in determining an employee’s ability to focus is their physical environment. In fact, it’s been said that a well-designed office can increase your productivity about 20%. However, despite the studies and statistics, nearly half of the employers interviewed don’t consider workplace design a good business investment.

                  So what is a productivity hack to do? What if you work in an environment that doesn’t promote focus?

                  Check these 15 factors and make changes where you can. A little adjustment can produce a lot of impact.

                  Lighting

                  Lighting is one of the most important factors in staying focused and feeling inspired to create, yet it’s one of the most overlooked and least invested in. Bad lighting can cause fatigue, eyestrain, headaches and overall irritability. Dark spaces can actually produce depression.

                  If you work in a company office:
                  You probably have no control over your general lighting so bring in your own, if need be. Consider using natural light bulbs or a light therapy device.

                  If you work from a home office:
                  Open the windows and doors and let natural light in. Using lamps in a variety of areas for cloudy days or when it’s dark.

                  Chair and Table

                  If you’ve ever sat at a desk to do work but found yourself adjusting, stretching and moving too often to actually stay focused, then you’re aware of the importance of having a correctly fitted table and chair. In today’s work environment where so many of us are sitting for most of our day, it is critical that your throne fits your body probably.

                  Consider these quick ergonomic checks:

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                  • Eyes 24-36 inches from the computer screen. The top of the monitor should be below or at eye-level.
                  • Feet should be on a foot rest or resting on the floor.
                  • A slightly reclined chair posture is best to reduce pressure on your spine and minimize lower back pain.

                  If you work in a company office:
                  Ask for an adjustable chair. Add pillows for your lower back or bum, if you need it. Many companies will also provide risers for computers to adjust the height of your computer screen (and a separate keyboard to keep your hands and wrists in the ideal position)

                  If you work from a home office:
                  Invest in a decent chair or at least use a few pillows to make the chair more comfortable. If the table is too high, add pillows to your chair. If it is too low, consider buying leg risers from your local hardware store and using books beneath your computer to raise the screen. Use a separate keyboard.

                  Clutter

                  Your mama was right, it’s important to clean up your room. Clutter may help the creative mind create, but it isn’t necessarily helpful for focus and productivity.

                  If you work from a company office: While you can’t control the cleanliness of the office at large, do keep your own environment around you clean. Spend 10 minutes every morning or evening making sure things are put away, filed, organized and generally out of sight so you’re not distracted by it later.

                  If you work from a home office: Because you work from home, the entire house or apartment is potential for distraction. If you can afford it, hire a professional cleaning service to keep your home clean. If not, schedule a specific day and time to clean your home. Commit to doing daily pickup at a specific time. And spend at least 10 minutes every day making sure your office  is organized and tidy.

                  Room Color

                  The colors around us all have an effect on our moods and brain function. It evokes both a physical and emotional response. So choosing the right colors for your work space has the ability to affect your productivity. For instance, blue has been said to illicit productivity. Mind you, too much of anything can be overwhelming, even color.

                  If you work from a company office: Bring in items from home that are a certain color that inspire you and keep you focused. Use postcards, magazine cutouts, even just blocks of color will do.

                  If you work from a home office: If you work from home, you have much more control over the colors around you. Consider repainting a wall, adding color to the table you work at, or hanging pictures that are dominated by a specific color.

                  Room Temperature

                  Most offices keep their temperatures around 65-68 Fahrenheit but it turns out that this might not be good for productivity. Warmer rooms actually make people more productive.

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                  If you work from a company office: Most offices are regulated by somebody else, so bring a space heater, sweaters and blankets to your work space.

                  If you work from a home office: Depending on the season, open the windows or adjust the heat or a/c so that you’re more comfortable and warm. Pile on the sweaters in the winter or add a space heater to your feet.

                  Room Scents

                  Like the color of the space you work in, our sense of smell can powerfully affect our mood, mindset and thus our productivity. Consider adding scents to your work space to jar your mind into focus when you start to notice yourself drifting off.

                  Try using these scents to stay focused:

                  • Pine – Increases alertness
                  • Cinnamon – Improves focus
                  • Lavender – Helps to relax you during a stressful work day
                  • Peppermint – Lifts your mood
                  • Citrus (any) – Wakes you up  and lifts your spirits

                  If you work from a company office: Most people will not appreciate added scents to their work environment so you’ll need to keep it subtle. Keep essential oils in your bag or drawer and when you’re in need of a boost put a few drops on a handkerchief or cotton ball.

                  If you work from a home office: Use candles, incense or essential oils. You can also simmer herbs and spices in the kitchen to fill your home with a warm scent.

                  Noise Level

                  The noise level in a work environment can vary greatly depending on the size of the team you work with, the office design and company culture. But make no mistake, the noise around you affects your ability to stay on task. Not only can it be distracting, it can also raise stress levels making your ability to sustain productivity far more difficult.

                  If you work from a company office: Bring in noise cancellation headphones and use music services like Spotify or Songza and choose concentration boosting sounds, like white noise.  Find out if your office offers quiet work spaces for times when you need the utmost focus.

                  If you work from a home office: Sometimes the complete quiet can be as distracting as an office. Use a service like Coffivity to mimic the noise of a coffee shop, which has been said to help with concentration.

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                  Air Quality

                  Air quality can drastically affect our ability to focus and think clearly. Get this: OSHA estimates that the total annual cost of poor air quality in office environments costs employers $15 billion “due to worker inefficiency and sick leave.” Yeah, it’s serious business.

                  If you work from a company office: Talk to them about installing air filters. If there is a way to bring in fresh air through windows or doors, arrange to have them opened for at least a portion of the day. If nothing else, get a personal air filter to have on your desk or nearby.

                  Also, get a plant (or better yet, have the company buy and use more plants in the office!). Plants are great at filtering the air and providing clean, purified oxygen.

                  If you work from a home office: Open windows and doors and let in the fresh air. Install an air filter or get a portable air filter to keep near your desk. And, yes, you too should get a plant.

                  Different Spaces

                  If you can manage it, give yourself more than one space to work from. Putting yourself in a new space with different qualities and things to look at quite literally shifts your brain and helps you stay focused.

                  If you work from a company office: Many offices offer a variety of environments to work from: your personal space, lobbies, break out rooms, conference rooms, kitchens and eating areas and, if you’re lucky, they also provide lounge areas. Use all these spaces to vary your routine. Make sure your supervisor knows so they don’t think you’re slacking off and know tat you’re actually getting more done!

                  If you work from a home office: If you work at a desk, add a comfortable couch or chair to the room. If your space is less flexible or ultra tiny, think about more creative ways to change your work space. Rotate the pictures on your walls every couple of days. Sit on the other side of your desk. Get a lamp and multiple colored bulbs. Or go work at a café, the library or in a park.

                  Organization of People

                  Most employers organize employees around job function or in specific divisions. Instead, studies show that people are more creative and productive when they are sitting with colleagues that share the same goal or client. Not only are you able to get answers and generate solutions quicker, but because you’re directly accountable to the people around you, you’re more likely to stay on task and productive.

                  If you work from a company office: Ask your employer if you can experiment by clustering your group together in a conference room for a day or a week. Get feedback from everybody involved. Show the results. If your company won’t make permanent adjustments, perhaps they’ll allow you to work together a couple times a week when the conference room or lounge area is free.

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                  If you work from a home office: This is a little bit more difficult because when you work at home you’re not with colleagues. You can recreate a similar space digitally, however. Create a Skype group and have everyone logged in during working hours. You can do morning accountability and check-ins while remaining available for questions, solution-finding and general banter that promotes creativity.

                  Idea Storage

                  Ever been working hard when you’re suddenly distracted by a great idea? At first you try to push it away, but then the next thing you know you’re 20 pages deep into an online search on the topic. Ideas should be encouraged and cultivated, but when they come right in the middle of another task it can be incredibly distracting. Instead, create a place to store your ideas that’s easily accessed from your work space.

                  For both a company and home office: Keep pads of paper around, have a chalk wall, get a white board – when you have a spark of inspiration write it down right away to get it out of your head then return to the task at hand. Then, at the end of the day or when you have free time, collect all the ideas and review them. With a little time and space you can better decide if it’s worth pursuing or better to leave it on the back-burner.

                  Refreshment

                  Our brain needs nourishment to keep going, especially when we’re driving hard and staying focused. You can let a rumbling stomach go on for only so long before the brain shuts down. Assuming your different is like wanting your car to keep driving without having to stop and fill it with gas. A novel idea, but not realistic.

                  If you work from a company office: Pre-make snacks for the day and/or week. Or, bring in prepackaged snacks. Keep in mind that junk food has properties of diminishing returns so if you’re buying your food prepackaged think nuts, fruit, unsweetened yogurts, and hummus and crackers. Likely, your company provides coffee, tea and water so you don’t have to worry about supplying that for yourself.

                  If you work from a home office: If you work from home, this can be a key distraction. Try to reduce the number of times you walk into the kitchen each day. To do this, keep quick and   easy snacks pre-made or prepackaged ready and near your desk. Keep a water bottle nearby. And consider bringing a kettle into your office and stocking tea and coffee so you’re   not tempted to wander around the house and lose time poking through the pantry.

                  Bring in Nature

                  We are biological creatures, first and foremost. So we are deeply affected by our access to (or lack of) the natural world. It’s important for our psychological and physiological functioning, which directly affects our ability to be productive.

                  If you work from a company office: If you don’t have windows in or near your work space, bring in pictures of the outdoor world. Keep a picture of something natural as your screensaver and/or desktop wallpaper. Take walks outdoors at lunch or in between major tasks. Just a few minutes outside in the fresh air and sunshine can boost our mood and shake out the doldrums. Be sure to add a plant to your desk, too!

                  If you work from a home office: Keep the shades open and, if you can, let in fresh air. If you can’t see anything natural out of your window, keep pictures of the natural world as your screensaver and/or desktop wallpaper. Take walks. Or, just step outside and put your feet on the ground. Put plants in your office – research shows that having live plants in your office makes you more productive, happier and less stressed.

                  Digital Space

                  For most people, our primary work is housed within our laptops and our physical environment simply the backdrop to our digital lives. Make sure your computer has software that helps you sculpt the digital environment that best elicits productivity. Use focus apps like this one or this to decrease distractions. Or design your day using intervals with an app like this one to keep you at your peak focus throughout the day.

                  Featured photo credit: Phil Desforges via unsplash.com

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