Many organizations are undergoing significant leadership changes as leaders transition out of the workforce and are replaced by a new generation. One of the ongoing challenges of this process is building up a pipeline of high-potential employees to fill these positions as they become available. With good leadership development and succession programs in place, companies can identify these candidates faster and do a better job of preparing them to step into their new roles with minimal disruption.
As young leaders take on new responsibilities, however, they must also learn how to put their leadership skills to use. Good leadership development programs can help them build those skills, but their success will ultimately be determined by how well they can apply them in practice. Fortunately, there are a few simple strategies leaders can apply that will position them to deliver results and earn the trust of their team members.
Whether they want to or not, leaders are almost by definition leading by example. People constantly compare what they say to what they do, and any discrepancies can easily cause a lack of trust or engagement. As a result, , leaders can benefit enormously by taking initiative early and often.
By embracing additional responsibilities, taking on new learning challenges, or making an effort to form new connections, leaders can model a commitment to action and self-improvement for others to emulate. This can be especially beneficial for millennial employees, who tend to be far more focused on finding opportunities for self-improvement and career development. Rather than settling back on their heels, proactive leaders find ways to be engaged and involved, which in turn inspires others to be more productive. They find ways to say “yes” to opportunities and look for new areas where they can make an impact that furthers the organization’s goals.
When leaders are consistently stepping forward, they establish a foundation of credibility that makes it easier for them to build trust among team members. Employees can see that a leader doesn’t ask more of them than they ask of themselves, which makes them more likely to buy-in to new ideas and ways of doing things.
President Harry Truman famously kept a sign on his desk that read: “The Buck Stops Here.” It was a way of indicating that he ultimately accepted accountability for every decision made by his administration. Obviously, Truman was not personally involved in everything that happened in the administration, but by taking accountability for its actions, he made it known that he accepted responsibility for the outcomes. Ignorance was no excuse; if something happened without his knowledge, it was his fault for not knowing about it in the first place.
Holding themselves accountable for team or company performance is a key quality of effective leaders. It’s also one of the clearest ways for them to demonstrate leadership. Accountability is largely about trust. When team members know that a leader will take responsibility for outcomes, they can trust them not to direct blame when things go wrong. This isn’t to suggest that the leader will cover up for poor performance—far from it. But by taking ownership of the team’s outcomes, leaders have a vested interest in making sure that everyone does their job to the best of their ability.
At the same time, when a leader accepts accountability, they signal that their highest priority is achieving the team’s collective goals rather than furthering their own personal agenda. This helps to build a sense of trust and community within a team environment. It also sets a strong example for other team members to follow. When they see a leader willing to voluntarily admit mistakes, follow through on their word, and avoid under or over-committing, people are more willing to accept the same level of accountability in their own work.
Give (and Accept) Feedback
Providing open and honest feedback to team members is one of a leader’s most important responsibilities, but it’s easy to allow feedback opportunities to fall to the wayside. Rather than withholding comments and observations until a quarterly review period, leaders can step forward to address concerns or deliver praise in the immediate aftermath of the behavior or action. This makes it easier to focus on the specific situation while the details are still fresh in everyone’s mind.
Positive feedback is just as important as feedback seeking to improve habits or behaviors. By connecting regularly with team members to discuss their performance, leaders can show that they’re committed to their development and success. It also helps to build a rapport that encourages two-way communication and trust.
By the same token, leaders should always be receptive to feedback on their performance. Keeping an open door policy that allows team members to bring concerns or criticism to their attention indicates that they’re committed to improving their own performance and are just as willing to accept feedback as they are to provide it.
With leaders increasingly operating in virtual team environments, it’s more important than ever for them to promote open, honest, and inclusive communication to foster better collaboration. Taking the time and effort (there’s the importance of initiative again) to build relationships with team members and ask questions frequently contributes to a healthy work environment where everyone feels like they are a valued member of the team.
When leaders show respect and consideration in their interactions with employees, they reinforce the idea that they’re committed to the team’s success, not simply furthering their personal ambitions. By sharing information when possible and continually communicating about progress that’s being made towards the team’s goals strengthens the foundation of trust that effective leaders can use to get the most out of their teams.
Regardless of their position within an organization, leaders have a number of opportunities to display their leadership skills every day. Ironically, they can often showcase these skills more effectively by focusing on less visible strategies like building relationships and taking responsibility rather than trying to stand out as a stereotypical “lone wolf”-style of leader. By practicing the very skills that good leaders need to be successful, aspiring leaders can build a reputation for putting the needs of the organization first and establishing the credibility and trust that will bring them even more success in the future.