Outside of a job title, what does it mean to be an “effective leader”? This post looks at leadership through the lens of psychology to give concrete, practical meaning to common leadership traits like, communication, passion, responsibility, emotional intelligence and trust.
1. Effective leaders are good communicators
We hear it all the time, but what is “good” communication? For starters, it’s more than having a way with words. Communication includes two parts- listening and talking. Both aspects are equally important for a well-rounded interaction. Practically speaking, good communication involves active listening and clear talking. According to Psychology Today, an active listener uses eye contact, posture and nodding to engage the speaker and communicate respect and concern for what’s being said. They also check understanding by reiterating what they’ve heard and asking clarifying questions. Clear talking is concise. As a leader, it’s unnecessary to prove superiority through lofty speech. Keep talk relatable by avoiding long, complex speeches filled with jargon. Repeat your primary points and enhance your message with non-verbal tools, like props or presentations when possible (Burton, 2017).
2 & 3. Effective leaders are passionate and approachable
Passion is an essential motivator that must go beyond grand gestures. An effective leader inspires their team when they need it the most… Monday mornings. No matter the job, there are mundane tasks and slow seasons. Therefore, you should worry less about energy or eloquence and make passion a persistent practice of showing up, working hard and maintaining a positive attitude. If you can get people excited about quarterly reviews, then you can inspire them to anything.
This type of persistent passion is also approachable because it demonstrates empathy and inspiration. Everyone can relate to feelings of burnout or discouragement. When your passionate about making every day impactful your team is more likely to approach you with their own struggles and look to you for inspiration.
4. Effective leaders focus on solutions.
Effective leaders don’t point fingers. As a leader, you have a unique position in troubled times. Your knowledge and involvement likely spans across the organization. Use your connections to cast vision, unite departments, assign tasks based on strengths, and encourage collaboration. By moving your team quickly toward a solution, you will quiet the rumor mill and prevent blame. This shifts the focus from where the problem started to where the problem ends.
5. Effective leaders exercise trust.
“If you want something done right, do it yourself”. While this common phrase has been around since the 19th century, it’s a danger to leadership. The truth of the matter is, you will leave your current position--even if it’s just for a weeklong vacation. So, get to know your team! Start by hiring competent employees and then identify their strengths and weaknesses. That way you’ll know how to assign the right projects to the right people. This empowers them to own the outcome of their assignment and increases employee morale and engagement. Not only that, it frees you up to complete your own assignments.
6 & 7. Effective leaders are emotionally intelligent.
This trait is two for one. An effective leader is emotionally intelligent which means they know their weaknesses. Psychology Today defines emotional intelligence as the ability to identify and manage your own emotions as well as the emotions of others. This is extremely important because employees are people first and workers second. Loyalty and longevity are emotional aspects of business that contribute to the bottom line. You can prioritize employee satisfaction through formal and informal surveys and reviews. Take an inventory of how staff feel about their projects, work environment and teammates. This fosters good communication, helps you get to know your team, and makes you approachable. So many good traits rolled into one!
Emotionally intelligent leaders are also aware of and open about their own needs and weaknesses. They recognize that perfection and leadership are not one in the same. Research psychologist Brene Brown found that people connect with those who have weaknesses because it makes them more relatable. No one is good at everything and that’s a good thing. Team work is encouraged and empowered when a leader recognizes their weaknesses and leans into others for help.
8. The takeaway.
Leadership is easier said than done. The good news is that effective leadership is built everyday. It's not about saying or doing things perfectly, but a willingness to speak clearly, listen well, trust your team and care deeply.