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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 September 18, 2020

                  How to Be More Self-Assured and Get More Done During the Week

                  How to Be More Self-Assured and Get More Done During the Week

                  Time is a great leveler isn’t it? We all have the same 24 hours in a day. Even if you’re self-assured, the day may never feel quite long enough.

                  Why is it that some people can be so much more productive and achieve so much more in a typical day, while others struggle to achieve anything apart from feeling time crunched and overwhelmed?

                  Everyone I know and work with wants to make the best use of their time. They want to learn how to be more self-assured, happier, and work less—all while growing in their career.

                  How effectively we use our time—and how we actually work in our business—can make a huge difference to the amount we accomplish in a day or week. It can also make us more focused and more confident.

                  Do you want to have more thinking and creative time? Do you want to spend more time working on your business rather than working at or in your business? In this article, we’ll show you how.

                  Get More Done by Gaining Confidence

                  What if you had a strategy for making the best use of your time that brings you more joy and allows you to focus on the biggest activities and opportunities in your business? You may find the following outline below to be helpful:

                  1. Create an Exciting Vision

                  If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you know when you get there?

                  You want to be more productive and spend more time getting the right stuff done. Well, you need to create a compelling and exciting vision of your future.

                  What does this future look like? How will you feel when you get there?

                  Creating a new vision, especially one that is a lot bigger than where you are right now, has a way of igniting your passion. It may be something that feels hard to achieve, but every step you take towards that bigger vision will certainly build your confidence.

                  Create a vision board to feel more self-assured.

                    Commitment to this vision, and accomplishing continual daily progress depends on your ability to look at any situation you’re faced with or currently in, feel self-assured, and see something bigger ahead.

                    Also, when you know where you’re headed, you will instinctively start to see all the new opportunities and connections that will get you there.

                    Make a vision map to get you started on the path to better productivity. This doesn’t have to be fully actualized, but you should know at least what direction you are heading.

                    2. Build a Strategic Plan

                    Once you have your future vision mapped out, the next step is to build a strategic plan to get you there.

                    Your future vision may be for 3 years or 5 years, or you may choose a longer time frame. Any timeframe over 3 years may feel like a long way away.

                    You may wonder how you are ever going to feel confident and motivated on this bigger future years from now when you feel as though you have so much to accomplish today.

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                    The first step is to decide on some specific goals for the next 12 months. Don’t list too many or you may begin to feel overwhelmed.

                    The magic number for me and my clients is usually five annual goals.

                    These are big goals that will create massive change in your business and life and bridge your current situation to your bigger future; accomplishing these goals one by one will help to increase your confidence on a daily basis.

                    3. Get on Goal Planning

                    Get yourself a piece of blank paper and a pen and divide the paper into 4 columns: A, B, C, and D.

                    Ask yourself the question: What is great in my business and life right now? Write these things down in Column A. This might be a couple of things, five things, ten things, whatever feels right to you.

                    Then ask yourself: What things are happening right now that I don’t want in my future? Write these things down in Column B.

                    This is your opportunity to take a step back and look at the things that are simply not working. You may list people that are bringing you down or projects that you don’t want to work on any more. Maybe you’ll include a service offering that’s going nowhere. It could be the people you’re working with, or it could be your pricing.

                    Now, let’s look at your personal strengths. Write down everything that you’re great at in Column C.

                    These could be things that you’re doing right now and having success with. It could also be things you know you’re awesome at but you’re not spending enough time on.

                    Column D is for your biggest opportunities. Is there a new service/product you could offer your ideal customers? Is there a new innovation you could bring to market? Just take some time out and really think and list these things in Column D.

                    Once you’ve analyzed everything you’ve written down, take some time to really think about what goals you want to set for your business and life in the next 12 months.

                    4. Set Outcomes to Build Confidence

                    You now have your goals, and you’ll feel self-assured and raring to go. They are written down and you’re committed to achieving them. You feel self-assured and motivated.

                    But how do you ensure that you stay on the correct course to achieve these goals?

                    Managing and juggling day-to-day projects can get in the way. Dealing with problems can get in the way. Staying on top of orders, managing cash flow, and handling day-to-day stuff can move your ship off course.

                    You want to be productive and achieve your goals, but you also need to ensure the day and week runs smoothly.

                    One way to ensure this happens is to set 90 Day Outcome Goals; within those Outcome Goals, put some specific process goals that need to be undertaken.

                    Let’s say you want to get 10 more speaking jobs in the next 90 days, and you know that you typically convert 50% of opportunities.

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                    Therefore, your process goal needs to be to have 20 conversations in the next 90 Days to deliver the 10 new pieces of work. You will then work out who you can have those conversations with.

                    It’s smart to overshoot, so you will more easily hit your target. This is a clear plan to work through because with every win, your confidence will grow.

                    5. Completely Commit to Your Success

                    If you are not truly committed to achieving your goals, then chances are that you won’t reach them.

                    Motivation can only take you so far. It is the intentional commitment[1] and emotional investment in your future success that will move you forward.

                    Think back to any time that you really committed to achieving something. There must have been a reason you actually achieved what you set out to achieve. What motivated you?

                    Were you fully invested? Why did it matter? Did you have to be really courageous to achieve it?

                    How did it feel when you achieved it? What difference did it make?

                    When have you felt truly self-assured? When you are committed to something, then you are propelled into action. Your mindset is focused, and your body follows; you want to get it done.

                    And, when you do get it done, your confidence goes through the roof. You feel a level of certainty in achieving the goal you set out to accomplish.

                    6. Focus on Your Strengths

                    To feel self-assured and build up the confidence needed to achieve our biggest goals, we need to focus on our strengths.

                    What are you best at? What are your unique skills? You want to spend as much time as you can working in the areas that you’re great at.

                    Multiply your strengths. These areas are where you add the biggest value. They often bring you the biggest amount of joy, and you feel more and more confident when you are using your unique skills.

                    If you think there is a specific capability you need to learn or be better at, spend more focused time in that area.

                    Many of us want to do it all. We want to be good at everything. We want to offer a lot of services. But, in reality, there are some very specific things we are great at; nobody is good at everything!

                    Spending more time adding value in the areas where you excel can create breakthrough results and boost confidence.

                    7. Embrace the Present

                    Sometimes we spend so much time thinking about the future or worrying about the past that we forget the present moment[2].

                    Are you spending most of your day reacting to things, or have you taken the time to think about what your perfect day looks like?

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                    We all have the opportunity to create rather than react, to decide what we do with our day. All of our future success can be created in the present moment if we just take a step back and take action.

                    Sometimes, doing it now is more important than doing it perfectly. There are hidden opportunities in every moment. We need to make sure we don’t miss them if we want to feel self-assured.

                    8. Calm the Whirlwind

                    The day-to-day life in business and life can be hard, which leads us to feel less self-assured.

                    Your mind may be full to bursting with all of the things you feel you have to do. The phrase “I don’t have time” has almost become an instant reaction by so many people when new opportunities are presented.

                    There is a whirlwind happening inside our minds.

                    Appointments, notifications, tasks, phone calls, errands, cash flow, staffing issues, networking, marketing all can clutter up our timeline. The sheer volume of things we feel we should do creates procrastination, stopping us from pursuing the projects and people that matter.

                    Many of us feel we have to do everything within our business.

                    Rather than simplifying things and doing less, we do more. We work longer, which creates a lack of energy and focus. Because of this, we lose clarity on our biggest opportunities. If you feel this way, take some well-deserved time off.

                    Look at where you’re spending your time. How much of your time is being spent moving your ideas forward?

                    In the next 90 days, if you could delegate or outsource more daily tasks and spend more time focusing on where you add the biggest value, what difference would it make?

                    Calm the whirlwind by slowing down and doing less.

                    Focus on areas that you add the biggest amount of value. By doing this, your energy levels will increase, your confidence will grow and you will have more success.

                    9. Take More Time off

                    This may seem counterintuitive, but taking more time off to recharge and refocus can pay huge dividends.

                    If you are constantly fighting fires and caught up in the myriad of different activities that you have to do each day, then how can you move your business forward?

                    You may be being pulled in difference directions without any focused time on your biggest projects. If that’s the case, then it’s almost impossible to gain any real momentum in moving your business forward and hitting your goals.

                    The best way to get off that treadmill is to take more creative time out of the business.

                    Could you realistically take one day off per month to work on your business? If you could, what would you do with this time?

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                    Just imagine no distractions, only focused time on the strategic development and growth of your business.

                    Every day off per month could have a different focus: New product innovation; Thinking about your biggest clients; Improving operations.

                    Add to this a quarterly review to check in with your goals progress, and this could have a dramatic effect on where you spend your valuable time.

                    10. Celebrate Wins

                    Sometimes you just want to get through the day, right?

                    You have so much to do. There are so many things on your task list that you just complete what you can and then start another day. But what would happen if, at the end of each day, you took some time out to look at what you’ve accomplished?

                    Celebrating success keeps you motivated and helps you become more self-assured. It is not just another day. It’s a day that included things that should be celebrated.

                    If you’re struggling to feel motivated, try celebrating a couple of wins each day.

                    Celebrating success combined with the gratitude you have for achieving those wins will boost your confidence and inspire you for the next day.

                    11. Give Yourself More Space

                    When was the last time you gave yourself time to think?

                    Within the hustle and bustle, it can be difficult to give yourself a little bit of space and time to just think[3].

                    Imagine giving yourself just an hour a day to just let your mind wander or think about a specific thing.

                    If you think about it, we can all free up an hour a day for something without really losing any efficiency or really impacting our business.

                    In fact, that hour could be transformational for your business and life.

                    A new idea for a product could form, or an idea for adding value to your existing clients could materialize. Perhaps you could do a check in to your ideal future and your goals. You could decide that you want to take your business in a new direction.

                    Try this: Just sit alone for an hour with a notebook and let it be your creative thinking time. See what happens.

                    Final Thoughts

                    Ultimately, being self-assured happens when you have a clear direction.

                    This, coupled with having clear goals and working in your unique skill-set, gives you the biggest opportunity to be more productive and get more of the right things done.

                    The old mantra that “less is more” is right on the money. By giving yourself more time to work on your goals, you will inevitably increase your confidence; at this point, your ideal future can be anything you want it to be.

                    More on How to Be Self-Assured

                    Featured photo credit: Nathan Dumlao via unsplash.com

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