What does leadership mean to you? For a long time, a good workplace leader was thought to be someone smart who could intimidate you into doing what they wanted. They were typically your superior, had a commanding personality, and were able to direct their team’s actions towards common goals, as a drill sergeant might march their cadets relentlessly around an academy’s perimeter.
After research from authors, psychologists, and scientists such as Daniel Goleman, Abraham Zaleznik, and Daniel Pink, our understanding of what makes a good team leader has drastically improved, giving millions of employees reprieve from tyrannical bosses who might have caned them if they had the chance.
Rather than being a domineering bully, a good leader is someone with empathy, humility, and a clear understanding of what needs to be done, which naturally jolts people into action without the need for carrot-dangling or coercion. In this article, we’ll explore the essential aspects of leadership as defined by the latest scientific research.
Team leader skills
Leadership success depends on a number of personality traits and behaviours, which must be shown consistently by the aspiring leader.
An exceptional leader must be able to communicate effectively. They will be able to get their message across clearly, using simple, straightforward language that avoids any possibility of confusion, and isn’t said to impress. They don’t say “maximise,” “synergise,” or “assimilation” unless those words are the best possible words to get their message across. They speak plainly because they understand that good communication is more important than peacocking.
Similarly, a leader believes in the collective wisdom of their team. They’re secure enough to realise that their team members have skills and knowledge that they don't possess, and that they need every single one of them to achieve the company’s goals. For this reason, when their team members speak, they listen attentively. If a member of their team makes a suggestion that will change the direction of an entire project, they have the humility to have a productive discussion to figure out if it’s the right move.
Their tone and body language are friendly, open, and inspire confidence in whoever they are speaking to. They’re a master of nonverbal cues, able to pick up on subtle body language, facial expressions, and eye contact that exhibit how somebody is feeling, and change their approach to suit.
A good leader understands that every person in their team is a unique individual with their own goals, frustrations, likes, and dislikes, identified with empathy, and accommodated as best as possible. They have the tricky task of matching the individual’s needs with the needs of the entire team—a tightrope walk that requires patience and perseverance, and when successfully executed, creates a motivated, fulfilled team member. Staff must not be treated as a means to an end, but as people whose personalities and ambitions must be considered and accommodated whenever possible. The result is a team member who feels truly cared for, which creates a spirited intrinsic motivation whereby they want to do well for their leader.
By being authentic, honest, and making good on their promises, a good leader inspires trust in their team members. Because they have been consistently candid and truthful, their team believes everything they say, and trusts them implicitly. There’s no time wasted on rumours or second-guessing, just confidence in their integrity, born from a steady track record of authenticity.
An exceptional leader has the confidence to admit when they are wrong. As a human, they recognise that they will make mistakes, and that their fair share must be accepted with humility and grace. No covering up, no worming away, and no blaming others. They just hold their hands up, accept their mistake, and do their best to correct it, with or without the help of their team.
The humble leader creates space for learning. By admitting that they don’t know everything, they create a receptive attitude and a willingness to learn, as well as an endearing vulnerability that puts them on the same emotional level as their team members, who will admire and appreciate their modesty.1
As you can see, the majority of team leadership skills are based on personal qualities, but there’s one critical skill required to complete the picture—problem solving. A team leader must encounter and solve various problems to be effective. This might be temporarily swapping staff member roles to finish an upcoming project, after a key team member is granted compassionate leave for the death of their family member. It might be assisting HR to resolve a lingering dispute between two team members, so that they can work together in harmony. It might be identifying the reason for a recent drop in productivity and addressing it with efficiency and tact.
Most importantly, problem solving is used to create strategies that assist the company to achieve their goals. It’s being able to use the available resources to get the job done, while keeping the team happy.
What does leadership mean to you? We hope that after reading this article, you recognise that being a leader is much more than being a domineering boss. In fact, leaders can be found throughout the workplace, in positions high and low. They have the empathy, trust, humility, and communication skills necessary for leadership, and have the competence and agility to quickly solve problems that come their way. Excellent leaders energise us into action, creating a motivation that comes from within, without the need for external rewards.
- 2020, The Importance of Humility, Gloveworx