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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 March 30, 2020

                  What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

                  What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

                  If you’ve got a big block of free time, the best way to put that to use is to relax, have fun, decompress from a stressful day, or spend time with a loved one. But if you’ve just got a little chunk — say 5 or 10 minutes — there’s no time to do any of the fun stuff.

                  So, what to do in free time?

                  Put those little chunks of time to their most productive use.

                  Everyone works differently, so the best use of your free time really depends on you, your working style, and what’s on your to-do list. But it’s handy to have a list like this in order to quickly find a way to put that little spare time to work instantly, without any thought. Use the following list as a way to spark ideas for what you can do in a short amount of time.

                  1. Reading Files

                  Clip magazine articles or print out good articles or reports for reading later, and keep them in a folder marked “Reading File”. Take this wherever you go, and any time you have a little chunk of time, you can knock off items in your Reading File.

                  Keep a reading file on your computer (or in your bookmarks), for quick reading while at your desk (or on the road if you’ve got a laptop).

                  2. Clear out Inbox

                  Got a meeting in 5 minutes? Use it to get your physical or email inbox to empty.

                  If you’ve got a lot in your inbox, you’ll have to work quickly, and you may not get everything done; but reducing your pile can be a big help. And having an empty inbox is a wonderful feeling.

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                  3. Phone Calls

                  Keep a list of phone calls you need to make, with phone numbers, and carry it everywhere.

                  Whether you’re at your desk or on the road, you can knock a few calls off your list in a short amount of time.

                  4. Make Money

                  This is my favorite productive use of free time. I have a list of articles I need to write, and when I get some spare minutes, I’ll knock off half an article real quick.

                  If you get 5 to 10 chunks of free time a day, you can make a decent side income. Figure out how you can freelance your skills, and have work lined up that you can knock out quickly — break it up into little chunks, so those chunks can be done in short bursts.

                  5. File

                  No one likes to do this. If you’re on top of your game, you’re filing stuff immediately, so it doesn’t pile up.

                  But if you’ve just come off a really busy spurt, you may have a bunch of documents or files laying around.

                  Or maybe you have a big stack of stuff to file. Cut into that stack with every little bit of spare time you get, and soon you’ll be in filing Nirvana.

                  6. Network

                  Only have 2 minutes? Shoot off a quick email to a colleague. Even just a “touching bases” or follow-up email can do wonders for your working relationship. Or shoot off a quick question, and put it on your follow-up list for later.

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                  7. Clear out Feeds

                  If my email inbox is empty, and I have some spare time, I like to go to my Google Reader and clear out my feed inbox.

                  8. Goal Time

                  Take 10 minutes to think about your goals — personal and professional.

                  If you don’t have a list of goals, start on one. If you’ve got a list of goals, review them.

                  Write down a list of action steps you can take over the next couple of weeks to make these goals a reality. What action step can you do today? The more you focus on these goals, and review them, the more likely they will come true.

                  9. Update Finances

                  Many people fall behind with their finances, either in paying bills (they don’t have time), or entering transactions in their financial software, or clearing their checkbook, or reviewing their budget.

                  Take a few minutes to update these things. It just takes 10 to 15 minutes every now and then.

                  10. Brainstorm Ideas

                  Another favorite of mine if I just have 5 minutes — I’ll break out my pocket notebook, and start a brainstorming list for a project or article. Whatever you’ve got coming up in your work or personal life, it can benefit from a brainstorm. And that doesn’t take long.

                  11. Clear off Desk

                  Similar to the filing tip above, but this applies to whatever junk you’ve got cluttering up your desk. Or on the floor around your desk.

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                  Trash stuff, file stuff, put it in its place. A clear desk makes for a more productive you. And it’s oddly satisfying.

                  12. Exercise

                  Never have time to exercise? 10 minutes is enough to get off some pushups and crunches. Do that 2 to 3 times a day, and you’ve got a fit new you.

                  13. Take a Walk

                  This is another form of exercise that doesn’t take long, and you can do it anywhere. Even more important, it’s a good way to stretch your legs from sitting at your desk too long.

                  It also gets your creative juices flowing. If you’re ever stuck for ideas, taking a walk is a good way to get unstuck.

                  14. Follow up

                  Keep a follow-up list for everything you’re waiting on. Return calls, emails, memos — anything that someone owes you, put on the list.

                  When you’ve got a spare 10 minutes, do some follow-up calls or emails.

                  15. Meditate

                  You don’t need a yoga mat to do this. Just do it at your desk. Focus on your breathing. A quick 5 to 10 minutes of meditation (or even a nap) can be tremendously refreshing.

                  Take a look at this 5-Minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime

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                  16. Research

                  This is a daunting task for me. So I do it in little spurts.

                  If I’ve only got a few minutes, I’ll do some quick research and take some notes. Do this a few times, and I’m done!

                  17. Outline

                  Similar to brainstorming, but more formal. I like to do an outline of a complicated article, report or project, and it helps speed things along when I get to the actual writing. And it only takes a few minutes.

                  18. Get Prepped

                  Outlining is one way to prep for longer work, but there’s a lot of other ways you can prep for the next task on your list.

                  You may not have time to actually start on the task right now, but when you come back from your meeting or lunch, you’ll be all prepped and ready to go.

                  19. Be Early

                  Got some spare time before a meeting? Show up for the meeting early.

                  Sure, you might feel like a chump sitting there alone, but actually people respect those who show up early. It’s better than being late (unless you’re trying to play a power trip or something, but that’s not appreciated in many circles).

                  20. Log

                  If you keep a log of anything, a few spare minutes is the perfect time to update the log.

                  Actually, the perfect time to update the log is right after you do the activity (exercise, eat, crank a widget), but if you didn’t have time to do it before, your 5-minute break is as good a time as any.

                  More Inspirations on What To Do During Free Time

                  Featured photo credit: Lauren Mancke via unsplash.com

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