Let me paint you a picture. On your first day as a leader, you’re excited about your new role. You promise yourself you will never make the same mistakes as your leader did. You assure yourself that you will be the best leader your team has ever seen. Flash forward two months into the job. Your team isn’t performing. Morale seems to be at an all-time low. You’re frustrated and irritated.
Where did I go wrong?
Am I not cut out to be a leader?
Does my team deserve better?
If you have ever taken up leadership roles, you might have experienced similar situations and these are questions that can often plague you. But don’t fret. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a bad leader or that your team is incompetent. The real question to ask is, how can you turn this situation around? How can you be the best possible leader for your team? How can you be the leader they NEED?
The Economic Times surveyed 1100 working professionals in 2018 and reported that only 20% of employees are satisfied with their jobs. 8 out of every 10 experience dissatisfaction. In describing their relationship with their manager, 40% believed it was satisfactory while 20% believed it was bad.
Sad, but not surprising.
This data is indicative of an urgent need for introspection into how leadership is perceived in organizations. What can we do to make sure that we as leaders inspire those we lead to work harder, be more productive, and love what they do at the same time?
We are currently living in unprecedented times. There is no ‘How To’ guide on dealing with a pandemic, even for leaders. The steps we take today are going to set a precedent for years to come. The idea that leadership is tested during a crisis has come to the fore more than ever.
The era of the omniscient leader is over. Today, people appreciate leaders that are relatable and empathetic.
This change has led to the emergence of newer leadership styles:
Dynamic leadership is portrayed through how one can adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. One of the key aspects of dynamic leadership is being able to connect with those you lead. People should be able to see the bigger picture and how they can contribute to it by capitalizing on their differences and strengths.
Consider the COVID crisis, for instance. A dynamic leader would not panic at the uncertainty. Instead, they would gather their team together (on Zoom, obviously) and explain the situation as it was for the organization. They might not use the fanciest words or make the most eloquent speech, but by the end of it, everyone would be on board with their plan for dealing with the situation. Everyone would want to know what they need to do on an individual level to help the team survive. The success of a dynamic leader is, thus, measured by their ability to empower others rather than make them obey.
Ethical leadership is about demonstrating behaviors for the common good in every area of your life. Ethical leaders embody qualities such as justice, fairness, honesty, and respect for others. They are deeply grounded in their values and always strive to ‘do the right thing’ and stand up for what they believe in, even if it goes against popular opinion, be it taking a pay cut so that their organization can survive during a financial crisis or refraining from firing junior employees even though finances might be tight.
However, the most defining feature of an ethical leader is their ability to lead by example and practice what they preach. If they say they want you to be on time, you can be sure they will be on time as well (no more ranting about how your boss is a hypocrite!). Seeing them in action inspires and motivates others to follow their path and this is what makes them effective leaders.
Coaching leadership is characterized by collaboration and teamwork. Leaders adopting this style focus on gaining insights and inputs from their team. Rather than saying, “Do as you’re told,” such leaders say, “Let’s come up with a plan together”. Co-creation and brainstorming as a group lead to improved creativity. The aim is to make members of the teamwork with each other to deliver their best. Such leaders give their team space and opportunity to make their own mistakes and learn from them, providing effective feedback and guidance. Involving subordinates in decision-making and giving them the chance to fail are traits that employees value and appreciate.
As you read through this, you may think “I want to be a dynamic leader, But oh, wait. I want to be ethical too. But coaching leadership seems ideal too!”. The good news is, you don’t need to adopt any one specific style to successfully lead your team and motivate them. You can draw those aspects of different styles that seem the most suited to your personality and the needs of your team and organization.
While you figure this out, here are some universal tips and hacks that are effective irrespective of your leadership style:
While you may want to be a specific kind of leader, your team may need something entirely different. Furthermore, each team member is different. One blanket leadership style will not necessarily tend to the needs of every member. As a leader, you need to understand the people you are leading. Having one-to-one conversations with them would be a good start. It might be difficult at first but eventually, you will begin to understand the perfect kind of customization each person needs.
We’re all so quick to give others feedback. But when it comes to us, every unpleasant comment makes us flinch, right? It might be uncomfortable, but it’s important. The best way to understand how effective you are as a leader is to ask your team. Creating safe spaces where members are unafraid to give honest feedback is crucial to improving the way you lead them. Such honesty and open interactions are crucial to establishing a connection with your team as well.
What if I’m vulnerable and my team considers me to be weak? This is what makes most leaders shy away from opening up. Not anymore. Times are changing and vulnerability is not considered a sign of weakness. It makes you a more relatable leader. Your team realizes that you don’t know everything, you need help too and you are not always put together.
Leaders can have their moments of self-doubt and insecurity as well. This is especially valid during the ongoing crisis where uncertainty and doubt prevail. Sharing these experiences with your team will help them empathize with you rather than the view you like an unattainable ideal. This inspires them and makes them want to work with you rather than for you. For instance, Airbnb’s co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky’s heartfelt message to his employees is a stellar example of how you can be a good leader by being vulnerable.
Don’t you love it when you’re appreciated and praised? Even if it’s a small gesture such as a “good job,” a little bit of appreciation from their leader can go a long way in motivating people to work harder. Don’t be stingy in giving out appreciation and rewarding good work. All rewards do not have to be material or monetary. Publicly appreciating someone’s work will not only push them but also others to do more.
No doubt, there’s a lot to do, but you’ve got to start somewhere. So why not start right now? Try to implement these ideas with your team and let us know how it goes!