Many leaders get to the top, think they’ve made it, and stop trying to improve.
The best leaders, on the other hand, understand that leadership is always a work in progress and that they can always sharpen their skills. They understand that toxic leaders are the No. 1 reason people leave their jobs, so they work hard to constantly get better and get their team to trust them more and more.
If your goal is to keep your employees engaged and build a tight-knit team that would go to the ends of the earth for you, cycle through these five steps regularly to keep your eyes on the prize.
1. Be a Proactive, Strategic, and Intuitive Listener
One of the most important leadership skills is the ability to listen tactfully. The best leaders understand their direct reports’ circumstances at the deepest level because they are intuitive, strategic listeners who pay attention not only to what is said but what isn’t. They are able to determine what their employees are actually trying to say instead of focusing solely on the words coming out of their mouths.
Many leaders get so wrapped up in those words that they don’t pay attention to what’s going on beneath the surface. By listening deeply, you can detect the latent emotions conveyed but not stated by your team’s communications and use them to inform your response.
2. Demonstrate a Proficiency at Establishing, Maintaining, and Repairing Superior-Subordinate Relationships
Not every leader is capable of creating and nurturing legitimate relationships with their subordinates. In large part, this is due to the fact that maintaining such relationships is only possible when you use Tactical Empathy™ to not only see things from your direct reports’ perspectives, but also ensure that they know you see them that way.
Leaders are put in a position to move their organizations forward—but never at the expense of their subordinates.
If you want to develop strong relationships with your team members—or you want to improve a relationship that has been damaged—there’s no faster or easier way than using Tactical Empathy to demonstrate and articulate an understanding of and respect for your subordinates.
3. Manage Your Ego and Authority
By themselves, ego and authority aren’t 100 percent evil. But they can be when they are left unchecked.
The most effective leaders manage their ego simply by understanding that it’s not about them—that instead, it’s about the people that work around them.
Ego is often tied to accomplishments. But your subordinates don’t care about your resume, which really only loosely translates to whether you can do the job. What they do care about is whether they can trust you to be a blade runner—a person who can keep the overall mission in sight while keeping their direct reports’ interests top of mind simultaneously.
At the same time, effective leaders also understand that their authority—their position within the hierarchy of the organization—should never be the thing that makes them tick. They understand how demoralizing because-I-said-so types of bosses are, so they delicately balance the way they convey their messages to make sure their employees are engaged, not because they have to, but because they want to.
4. Be Able to Navigate Challenging Conversations
When you’re a leader, you’re going to have challenging conversations. Effective leaders are able to navigate these conversations deftly.
Studies suggest that as many as 70 percent of change management initiatives fail. It’s not because the change itself is the problem. It’s how the change is being articulated.
Whenever change is in the mix, dissension will follow. Your organization is going to do things that cause people to push back. That’s just the way it is. How you respond to that pushback is what matters most.
Many leaders get so caught up in trying to quash such dissension before understanding where it’s coming from. When employees push back, these leaders jump over to explanation mode. But when you’re explaining, you’re losing. The dissension won’t go away unless you’ve addressed the negative emotions and dynamics that are fueling it.
When challenging conversations rear their ugly heads, effective leaders are aggressive in their pursuit of understanding what is motivating the behavior of their direct reports. That understanding enables them to smoothly navigate the conversations, keeping their team engaged along the way.
5. Continue to Be a Learner
Many leaders collectively think that they are doing leadership right. There’s a reason they got promoted, after all, so they stop trying to get better.
The leader that fails to continue learning is doomed. If you want to improve your leadership skills, you should avail yourself of anything in the leadership sphere that’s going to sharpen your blade. Always be hungry for the next best thing that’s going to improve your performance.
In Ego, Authority, Failure™, I share the story of Colonel George Reed. As he rose through the military ranks, a superior instructed him to get a notebook and jot down things he learned every day—from both peers and direct reports—and that’s exactly what he did.
By writing down nuggets of wisdom and referring back to them on a periodic basis, you can increase your proficiency as a leader.
Now that you know how to assess your leadership skills, it’s time to continue your learning. Check out The Black Swan Group Leadership Guide for more insights into how you can be a more effective leader.