What makes an effective leader?
What comes to mind when you envision a successful leader?
I’ve asked my clients this question so many times, and the image is usually somewhat consistent: someone that is assertive, confident, and knows how to direct a team from point a to point b in order to achieve organizational goals. People also tend to think of someone who prioritizes the bottom line at all times and knows how to stand their ground. The media, movies, and pop culture tend to portray that a good leader is born–that you either have what it takes or you don’t (the old ‘are you a leader or a follower?’ concept).
While some people may show more natural leadership potential than others, in reality, effective leadership is learned by honing key skills. Solid leadership skills include far more soft skills such as adaptability, active listening, and inspiration than you might initially consider.
In my work as an executive coach, I’ve come to realize that so much focus in business has been on profit and automation, but the reality is that we’re human first–and a great leader understands and celebrates this.
The Four Important Leadership Skills That Make A Great Leader
In my time working with a diverse range of executives and business leaders, I’ve learned that if you want to succeed in a leadership role, you need to develop these four important leadership skills:
- Self Awareness
- Conscious Communication
- Motivation and Inspiration
- Problem Solving
By honing these important skills, you create a space for long term employee satisfaction and spend less time managing unresolved conflicts between team members.
It may surprise you that the key to emotional intelligence is actually self-awareness. When it comes to understanding others, understanding your own emotions and behavior is paramount. This Harvard Business Review article states that leaders who are more self-aware are more effective leaders, have more satisfied employees, and run more profitable companies.
The article also helps us understand that there are two very different categories of self awareness:
- Internal self-awareness: an understanding of yourself, your values, and your behavior
- External self-awareness: an understanding of how others perceive you, your values, and behavior
Introspection (internal self awareness) is critical when it comes to figuring out what is important and aligned to you in your work, and external self-awareness is critical to developing more advanced communication skills. Both types of awareness are essential management skills but are developed through different means.
The skill required to develop more external self-awareness is actually the ability to ask for and receive feedback–a skill that falls under ‘Conscious Communication’ down below.
Effective internal self-awareness can be honed with a few strategies that can help you live up to your potential.
Sometimes the first step to regulating our emotions and better understanding how we feel is getting present in our own bodies. Mindfulness is being fully aware of what is happening in the present moment without needing to be reactive to it or overwhelmed by it. It’s witnessing. Meditation is focusing your mind and not engaging with your thoughts.
As a business and career coach for women of color and allies, I encourage all my executive coaching clients to implement a meditation practice, whether it’s a guided meditation audio track, a walking meditation practice, or simply tuning in with a few deep breaths and a mantra. Often I have even sat with a client and did a breathwork practice together and saw how immediately they felt less anxious and more able to find the next step.
Changing ‘why’ to ‘what’
In the same Harvard Business Review study I mentioned before, they found that asking ourselves why we feel a certain way or believe a certain belief is not very effective in actually making us more self-aware.
So instead of asking yourself, “Why do I feel frustrated with this board member?” try switching to something more actionable and specific like “What are the ways I can improve our relationship?” ‘Why’ questions can lead to vague and fear-based considerations, while ‘what’ questions give us a path forward.
Getting comfortable with conscious communication is one of the top management skills I encourage in my clients.
Communication in the workplace can be fraught. Bringing together groups of people with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives that shape how they communicate into a single workplace culture can create situations ripe for conflict and miscommunication.
But when we approach each other with curiosity and operate from a place of obtaining consent before giving feedback, we can shape workplace cultures where people feel witnessed, appreciated, and respected.
Great leaders must understand the importance of initiating difficult conversations in the right way, how to give feedback in a compassionate and productive format, and how to ask for and implement feedback given to them from team members. And when we learn how to communicate, to ask for consent, and to be curious with our team, our conscious conversations become about coming to a place of understanding with each other, rather than who’s right or wrong.
Want more from me on getting comfortable with conscious conversations? Check out these two Color Your Dreams podcast episodes to hear me share even more.
- Episode 7: From Cancel Culture to Conscious Conversations in Business and Life
- Episode 40: Why Difficult Conversations Improve Our Life + Work Relationships with Erica Courdae and India Jackson
Motivation and Inspiration
No matter how great you are at managing budgets, meeting deadlines, and delegating work, none of it will really matter if you can’t keep your team members or employees engaged and inspired. As much as our capitalist society encourages peak productivity at all times, the truth is that top leaders understand that productivity is a result of so many moving parts and factors like mental health, creativity, fulfillment, confidence, and of course, even the seasons. When employee motivation is down, it may be tempting to put together your best pep-rally speech and gather your team to deliver your words of wisdom, but that’s not an effective way to motivate your team members who have diverse needs and challenges.
A good leader understands that motivation and inspiration are maintained by understanding your team and their individual motivators and goals. The best leaders will inspire their employees to stay engaged by:
- Asking for input
- Encouraging teams to take ownership over their projects
- Utilizing the individual strengths of team members
- Creating an open line of communication between employees and the leadership team
- Seeing your team members as humans with unique needs and challenges
- Expressing and demonstrating gratitude
- Modeling healthy work/life balance as an organization
- Setting attainable goals and being transparent in times of transition and change
While recognition, awards, or team retreats may motivate some, great leaders take initiative to build up the day to day interactions and structure that make team members want to show up and do well at work.
At its core, leadership means problem solving. The best executive leaders are those that anticipate challenges and face them head on when they do arrive.
In my work coaching leadership teams through big transitions, I’ve seen business leaders get bogged down and overwhelmed by various problems stacking up without solutions. They’ve become paralyzed instead of proactive. Great leaders do not see problems as distractions that will go away if ignored. In fact, effective leadership may even view problems as a new perspective or an indicator of needed change.
Problem solving requires logical thinking, but also imagination and innovation. Those with great leadership skills won’t get in their own way by being stubborn or wanting to stick to the status quo.
For example, one of my clients thought she needed to be on Instagram to get clients. We looked at her client journey and realized that clients come to her on LinkedIn instead.
So instead of spending time making Instagram posts, she focused on LinkedIn and actually landed a $7,500 speaking engagement!
Effective leadership is so much more than delegation, supervision, and financial management. Great leaders are self-aware, receptive to feedback, and create space for innovation–they don’t forget that behind every successful company is a team of people who are uniquely human.
Are you ready to create a sustainable and values-driven culture, while still being profitable?
If you would like further support in your career, business, or leadership, my team and I would love to support you in creating a sustainable life! You can schedule a 30-minute legacy business or career review call with me to see if it’s a good fit to work together, and you’ll receive 3 action-items from me.
Related: Speaker for WOC
Related: How to Get Over Your Own Bullshit