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Want to be an effective leader? Develop these qualities

This guest blog post is by Aleka Thrash, enrollment counselor for Cornerstone University's Professional & Graduate Studies division. The original post can be found here.

When you think about leadership, what comes to mind? Calling the shots? A bigger paycheck? The corner office? The respect of others?

While all these things can be perks of leadership, these things must be earned. Leadership is more than simply a position or title. Leadership is about specific competencies. It’s about being a specific type of person and handling situations in particular ways.

These competencies and qualities aren’t genetic. Rather, they are carefully developed by taking specific, repeated actions.

If you want to be an effective leader, you should immediately begin developing these particular aspects of your life and work.

Maintain Appropriate Professionalism

Professionalism is a highly variable term depending on your work culture. If you work in a loose culture, you may be able to wear jeans and a t-shirt to work. If you work in a bank, you may be required to wear a suit and tie.

Regardless, effective leaders develop an appropriate sense of professionalism. This shouldn’t be confused with being snooty or condescending. Rather, it means taking your work seriously, hitting deadlines, respecting others, asking others to respect you and more. It’s primarily a way of being as opposed to a way of dressing.

These attributes can be formed through the way you dress, speak, attend meetings, respond to requests and a host of other ways.

Learn the Art of Delegation

Effective leaders understand they don’t have the time or skills to complete every task. They also are keenly aware that scaling a business requires a team, not a solopreneur.

Leaders understand how to delegate. They don’t feel the need to micromanage every task or check in on their charges every twenty minutes. They ask key people to do tasks and then trust them to accomplish them. Yes, there will be a time for updates and status reports, but the person also needs the freedom to accomplish that task.

Become a Clear Goal Setter

Leaders are able to see a goal and then chart a clear path toward that goal. They don’t set vague goals such as, “Get better at solving customer problems.” They establish clear objectives, such as, “Reduce the number of complaint tickets by 40 percent within six months.”

In addition to establishing goals, effective leaders map out the steps necessary to hit those goals. These benchmarks provide milestones for the team to measure progress. If the team is hitting the milestones, they know they’re on track. If not, they adjust accordingly.

Become a Clear Communicator

Failing to communicate clearly leads to massive problems for both leaders and those under them. Goals are missed, people are frustrated, problems are overlooked, misunderstandings are frequent and general chaos rules the day.

The ability to communicate clearly is absolutely essential for every leader. A leader should be able to communicate clearly in every medium, from speech to writing to even chat messages (such as Slack or Skype). Those who lack this ability often create more problems than they solve.

Don’t Be Antisocial

Great leaders make time for those under their charge. They learn to make space for conversations about challenges people are having as well as how to offer helpful solutions to those problems.

Effective leaders also learn to listen well. They don’t jump to solutions before they fully understand the problem, nor do they dismiss problems as unimportant. If leaders don’t listen, they won’t be trusted. When people don’t trust their leader, the work suffers dramatically.

Recognize Success

Few things are more demoralizing than achieving something notable and not having anyone notice. This is even more painful if it occurs on the job and your superior doesn’t thank you or appreciate what you’ve accomplished.

Effective leaders recognize the achievements of those under them. They honor them both in private and in public (in appropriate ways). These honors don’t have to be extravagant — even a simple thanks or encouragement is often enough. It’s the recognition that matters more than anything.

Maintain a Sense of Joy

Too often, leaders are intense and overly serious. Yes, there are objectives and goals that must be hit. Yes, work should be taken seriously, and those who don’t often create problems.

But the best leaders also maintain a sense of joy in the way they go about their work and lead others. They understand that all work and no play makes for a dull, uninspiring workplace. Effective leaders take steps, both small and large, to bring happiness to those under them.

Conclusion

Effective leadership skills must be built. Leadership that does not flow out of someone’s character is typically ineffective and often downright disastrous.

The good news is that if you take specific, small, concrete actions, you can begin developing these leadership skills immediately. You don’t need to be in a position of leadership to develop work on honing these attributes.

Yes, leadership must be earned, but the skills learned make it worth the effort.

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