Becoming a Great Leader
Different leaders have different leadership styles but all of them need to learn how to deal with human nature. This is not such an easy task considering the diversity of human nature. Great leaders have the ability to understand and work with different attitudes and personalities. To be an effective leader, one must develop fine social skills in order to relate with different kinds of people. The people skills are crucial in empowering people, which is a primary task in leadership.
The author has chosen two main factors to discuss when it comes to empowerment. The first one, empathy, is crucial in establishing open communication lines among people in an organization. The second one, motivation, is important getting a team to be productive.
A good leader must learn how to empathize with the people he or she will work with. Empathy is a person’s ability to show concern and understanding of other people’s perspectives. Empathy should not be confused with sympathy. When you are sympathetic with others, you identify with them to the point of agreeing with the person’s actions and plans. Empathy is not agreeing with a person. Empathy is being able to put yourself in another person’s position and understand their thoughts and feelings.
Empathy does not mean agreeing with the person all the time. Empathy only entails understanding one person’s point of view, even without giving advice. An effective leader needs to exhibit empathy towards other people. It is crucial in building trust and strengthening relationships among people. Productivity increases when the people working together share a healthy relationship. Empathy allows leaders to dig deep into the root cause of poor performance without being judgmental. By putting themselves in the shoes of other people, they can make better changes in people’s lives.
Empathy plays a huge role in empowering people. You don’t have to agree with each and every viewpoint but as a leader, you have to let the people around you realize that you understand them and know where they are coming from. When reaching out to people, don’t let your thoughts be clouded by judgments right away. Showing empathy takes time because it is not always easy understanding why people think and feel the way they do. By creating an environment where people feel that they can be comfortable expressing their opinions and thoughts, you can open yourself to empathic listening.
When talking to people, assure the speaker that he or she has your undivided attention. When people are about to confide their problems, they feel more comfortable when they are assured of full attention. Listen to the speaker with an open mind and heart. Resist the temptation to pass judgment. This can be difficult at first because biases are almost unavoidable but the awareness that you have your own set of biases should help you keep yourself from making judgments right away. Avoid interrupting the speaker at all times, even if you feel strongly about something. Don’t be afraid of moments of silence. After the speaker has aired his or her thoughts, a short pause would allow him or her to make sense of the situation and come up with his or her own solution. While the speaker is talking, don’t just listen to the words that come out of the mouth. Make sense of the emotions attached to those words. More than the words, you should be able to respond to the speaker’s emotions. Ask relevant and sensible questions to assure the speaker that you are interested and that you want to understand him or her. Oftentimes, the speaker will feel more at ease just by the mere effort and gesture.
Good leadership certainly entails superior motivational skills. Part of empowering people is to be able to motivate them and get them moving. As a leader, it is important to know what motivates the people around you. Needless to say, motivation goes hand in hand with empathy. Each person has different aspiration, dreams, and interests. A good leader needs to tap into these in order to get each member of the group moving. People work for many reasons – income, self-fulfillment, growth, etc.
The leader must make an effort to talk to the members of his team individually to get to know each person’s source or sources of motivation. The common misconception of most leaders is that all members of the team are motivated by the same factors. Some members can possibly share the same aspirations but it does not always apply to everyone. Motivation can be very personal, making it difficult for inexperienced leaders to motivate each and every member of the team. When it comes to motivation, there is no such thing as “one size fits all”.
The most common forms of motivation come from oneself, otherwise known as internal motivation. Motivation comes from within, which is why leaders should maintain good communication lines with their members to determine what motivates each member of the team. There are external factors that motivate a person but these factors also have to be harmonized with the internal motivational factors. In an office organization, the most common motivation would be salary but good leaders know that something more profound than money motivates people. For example, why are people looking forward to earning money? Do they have a family to support? Are they saving up to go to school? These motivations are something that a leader can explore when they dialogue personally with the members of their team. People are motivated when they establish very personal goals, aside from the goal that should be achieved in the organization.
Human beings are not static. They thrive in constant challenges and stimulation. People should be given tasks that increasingly get difficult but stay attainable. Their tasks should make them feel proud of themselves for having conquered challenges, whether they are small or big. Their tasks should be challenging but possible. Make sure to give them constant feedback on their performance to give them a sense of fulfillment and a glimpse of their performance. One of the easiest sources of motivation is praise and recognition. People are more energized to work when their achievements and efforts are given due recognition. However, be careful with recognition. Acknowledge the achievements of one person but don’t do it in such a way that will spark envy and unhealthy competition among colleagues.
In relation to challenges, another source of motivation for many people is a task that quenches their thirst for knowledge. People need to be exposed to an environment where their curiosity is satisfied. Make their working environment more interesting to arouse curiosity and encourage learning as well.
A leader needs to constantly figure out what motivates the members of the team, as a group and as individuals. Good leaders don’t just bluntly ask their members what motivates them because not all people realize them right away. Rather, good leaders should explore each individual values. This gives you a more personal glimpse on their lives, which will make it easier to dig into to what motivates them.
Allow each member of the team to set his or her own goals, only reminding them once in a while to design their goals according to the collective goal of the organization. This will give them a sense of control over their lives, which is a highly motivational factor for many people. Allowing them to set their own goals will give them a closer look of how their actions will affect their own goals.
You can also use group work or team work as motivational factors. These are effective for people who like to work in groups. This will enhance cooperation and relationships in the team. Also, people are more likely to be motivated when they know that their own actions will affect the welfare of other people. Cooperation will get more things done and strengthen relationships among members.
Good leaders also know how to facilitate a competitive environment to motivate people. This tactic is used in almost any kind of organization. A healthy competition will arouse the productivity of people because winning a competition gives a person a sense of accomplishment. Effective leader will learn how to use competition to motivate all the members of the team. As much as possible, leaders should encourage each member to compete against their own performance (even if they are competing with other people). Leaders should also ensure that the competition is worth joining even at the face of defeat. Leaders should be careful not to engage their team in a power struggle where each member becomes manipulative of others just to win a competition.
As mentioned earlier, different people have different motivations. Therefore, you have to cultivate a personal relationship with each employee in order to test different factors that might motivate them. For instance, some people are motivated by competition while others do not work well under pressure. It could be a hit-or-miss process but eventually, you will find each person’s motivation. Keep lines of communication open so that you know how each individual responds to motivational factors. Get feedback regularly and see the members of your team are motivated.
It’s also important to monitor your members to check if they are exhibiting signs of de-motivation. Clear the office space of any de-motivational factors as much as possible. Keep a healthy relationship between you and your members. You should also make sure that the members sustain harmonious relationships with each other. People are more productive when they have a good relationship with their leaders and their colleagues. Finally, ensure that the collective and individual goals are met.
In conclusion, leadership and empowering people is all about understanding their deepest desires and helping them set goals that are also aligned with the organization’s collective goal. It is very important for a leader to assure their members that they belong to an organization where even their personal goals and aspirations are highly valued.
Emotional Intelligence in Leadership
Leadership cannot take place when the leader does not have sufficient emotional intelligence. A leader with enough emotional intelligence can overcome difficult leadership challenges that not a lot of people can fulfill. Studies conducted in the past several years that people with high emotional intelligence are more adept in addressing organizational conflicts more effectively and quickly. Gone are the days when pure intellect was quickly equated with good leadership potential.
Emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to acknowledge and deal with his or her own emotions, as well as the emotions of other people. Emotions can fluctuate due to hormonal changes, stress, and unexpected situations that arise but the right amount of emotional intelligence will help the person deal with emotional changes effectively.
People have different personalities, needs, and preferences. Likewise, people have different ways of dealing with situations and expressing their emotions. It takes sound emotional intelligence to deal with different personalities. People may feel different emotions at the same time and more often than not, the challenge is to be able to deal with people’s different emotions without sparking conflict and straining relationships. When a person has sufficient emotional intelligence, he or she is able to recognize his or her own emotions and how they affect the people around. Emotional intelligence is also the ability of a person to understand how another person feels. Needless to say, emotional intelligence is needed in managing relationships.
In an organization, the people that stay longer usually have a high emotional intelligence. In fact, high emotional intelligence is more preferred than people with high IQ but with low emotional intelligence. People with high emotional intelligence are easy to work with, compared to those with low emotional intelligence. High emotional intelligence enables people to accomplish things by nurturing good relationships. They can sustain level-headedness even in stressful situations. Emotionally intelligent people are not immune to agitation or stress. However, they can easily get a grip of the situation and look for a solution in the calmest manner possible. Therefore, they are bound to make sound decisions because they manage their emotions well in the decision-making process.
Because emotionally intelligent people are level-headed, they don’t think too highly or too lowly of themselves. They know their strengths and weaknesses. They utilize their strengths whenever needed but they do not show it off excessively. Likewise, they are humble enough to look at themselves honestly and recognize their weaknesses. Emotionally intelligent people don’t succumb to criticism easily. They can take the criticism objectively and use it to enhance their performance.
Emotionally intelligent people are good team players because focus solely on their own success. People with high emotional intelligence look out for the success of the whole group and are willing to modify their own interests and whims for the whole team. They are good empathic listeners with the ability to read people’s emotions and feelings. They don’t judge right away as well. They try to put themselves in the situation of other people before they come up with a resolution for a conflict in relationships.The attributes mentioned above make emotionally intelligent people good at managing people and relationships.
Emotional Intelligence and Leadership
Surely, fine abilities and exceptional skills are valuable assets in an organization. It’s hard to ignore a person with unabashed brilliance and shining talent. However, the criteria for a good leader go beyond skill and talent. In order to stay in an organization, a person needs a lot of emotional intelligence. This is very true, especially if the person aspires to lead an organization one day. The leader carries a lot of responsibilities that need more than just skill and talent. All the responsibilities attached to leadership can only be carried out well if the leader is equipped with emotional intelligence.
Leadership is a social activity. Leaders need to nurture their emotional intelligence continuously in order to be able to deal with different kinds of personalities in an organization. Emotional intelligence is usually equated with “people skills”. Emotional intelligence is not just entirely about people skills, although a lot of emotional intelligence is needed to sharpen one’s people skills. Leadership requires forming and maintaining relationships with various personalities. Only a leader with high emotional intelligence can forge solid relationships with his or her team and maintain them. High emotional intelligence will enable a leader to relate with diverse personalities and still motivate each member of the team to meet the organization’s goal.
Leadership requires emotional intelligences, especially in times of conflict and pressure. Conflict and problems arise from all sorts of angles. Internal conflict can arise from people in the organization squabbling with each other. To be able to handle such problems, a leader needs emotional intelligence to keep emotions in check. In times of extreme pressure, leaders must be able to avoid explosive outbursts. A good leader should be able put things in perspective instead of succumbing to emotional outbursts. Handling team of diverse personalities is manageable when a leader has the right amount of emotional intelligence. An empathic leader that is considerate to all the members of the team has enough emotional intelligence to confront problematic members of the organization without severing relationships. Emotional intelligence on the side of the leader will enable him or her to help the problematic member to express feelings in a healthy way.
Decision-making is another leadership task that requires immense emotional intelligence. There are going to be many factors affecting a leader’s decision, including external factors, critics, and unforeseen situations. A leader with emotional intelligence will have enough level-headedness to weigh the pros and cons of any situation before coming up with a decision. Emotionally-adept leaders have enough capacity to make quick and well-thought of decisions. Leaders need to be emotionally intelligent in order to be independent decision-makers, not swayed by unnecessary factors. It takes emotional intelligence to clearly and objectively look at strengths and weaknesses, especially one’s own. Leaders need a good glimpse of their assets and weaknesses in order to come up with a decision and eventually follow-through.
Exercising and Enhancing One’s Emotional Intelligence for Leadership
Emotional intelligence can be developed and improved over time. One of the first steps to take would be to practice self-awareness in handling stress. Acknowledging the various emotions felt when under pressure and stress will make it easier to address the issue. By being aware of the various emotions running inside a person’s head, the person will easily understand the emotions before the emotions rule over their thoughts, words, and actions. Self-awareness is all about recognizing one’s feelings and thoughts but to develop it, you can enlist the help of other people. Seek the feedback of the people around you – supervisors, colleagues, etc. It’s also important to get the feedback of other people in order to recognize the impact of your emotions and actions on other people. This is important in enhancing the dynamics and relationship of each member. If the leader can practice self-awareness, he or she can set a good example to the entire team.
Part of self-awareness is knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses. You cannot be too humble to downplay your strengths; this is merely false humility. An emotionally intelligent leader needs to understand that the importance of recognition for efforts without showing off. On the other hand, one cannot be too arrogant with achievements and strengths. A thorough self-evaluation of strengths and weaknesses requires courage and honesty. In relation to self-awareness, you can also start your improving your emotional intelligence by self-reflection. Observe how you react to certain situations, especially the stressful ones. Do you easily burst into a fit? Do you easily snap at your colleagues? These are the things that you need to assess because they are all part of your emotional intelligence.
Improving your emotional intelligence means extending your threshold for stressful situations, whether it be internal conflict in the organization or a big pile of workload. These things really have their way of taking its toll on a person but they’re actually things that determine the emotional intelligence of a person. A leader lacking of emotional intelligence will storm away and succumb to these challenges. In the midst of all these challenges, don’t just wave your white flag right away. Do not give up on stressful situations without thinking them through. Learn to be aware of your own thoughts when faced with these situations and get a grip of them. Sort out your emotions and distance yourself from them so that you can put things into perspective. Ask yourself, “What can I do and what can’t I do?” Look at the problem in terms of the solutions you can provide and let go of the things that have no solutions.Focus your energies on things that can be remedied.
In dealing with problematic colleagues and workers, do not let your emotions lead your decisions and actions. More often than not, a career is usually destroyed because of faulty relationships with co-workers and subordinates. Don’t lash out personal tirades against the person. If you have the propensity to blow-up right away, walk away from the problem first and blow off some steam without lashing out at the person. Which part of the problem is the person’s fault? Is there anything that could have been done on your part? Are other people involved? Do not focus too much on the person. Instead, address the wrongdoing. When you have put things in perspective, talk to the person but hear out his or her side first. Hear out their viewpoints with no biases, judgments, and stereotypes. Empathy is very important at this point. It is important as a leader especially when you make decisions concerning your team members involved in the conflict.
Even if one of the team members is at fault, it is your job as a leader to ensure that the one at fault will recognize his or her faults without feeling judged. This is a gauge of how much emotional intelligence a leader has.
Build Successful Teams & Relationships
If you want to build successful relationships with your people, you have to be able to project yourself as more than just a person with authority. People need to respect you, not fear you. In the previous chapter, empathy and emotional intelligence were discussed lengthily. You are going to need to employ these two in order to establish a stable foundation for your relationships with your team members. It also starts with having a good relationship with yourself. This means getting to know yourself, strengths, weaknesses, potential for improvement, and how you react in various situations. Once you familiarize yourself with your personality, dealing with other people’s personalities would be manageable.
Also, part of building a successful relationship with your team is to find out what motivates each one of them so that they can be more productive and ultimately find growth and self-fulfillment for themselves.
One of the leader’s duties is to make the whole organization constantly productive. Productivity is undoubtedly important in an organization seeking a competitive and successful edge. Productivity relies on individual and team effort, both of which can be addressed by team building. Team building is supposed to produce a group of individuals that work together to execute different tasks. Trust and strong team dynamics are needed in executing these tasks.
What makes a team strong? A solid team must have a common goal. A team can be comprised of members performing different functions but they must always have one overriding goal to be able to call themselves one team. The team members are supposed to do their assigned tasks but they should be dependent up to a certain degree on the other members in order to attain the common goal. They will help each other if necessary to realize common goals. Even if they have individual goals, their individual goals must be aligned to the common goals. Cooperation should be ingrained in each team member at all times.
Team building sessions should establish the team goals, recognize issues that hinder the team from achieving those goals, and come up with ways for the whole team to reach those goals. There are guidelines in setting up team building sessions but how each session is designed still depends on the size and nature of the organization. For example, project-based teams usually change in composition constantly. Given these circumstances, team building activities should focus on the skills of each person that will enable him or her to become an effective team member.In a team where membership is relatively permanent, the focus will shift towards how each team member relates with each other. Relationships of the team members with each other will have a direct impact on their productivity. Thus, the nature of the team should be examined before designing a team building session.
The goal of your team building planning should make each team member realize the gravity of their tasks. Each member should also know why they are participating in the organization. By the end of the team building, they should be reminded of their purpose in the organization.
When planning team building activities, make sure that there are activities that are related to the tasks that the people undertake on a normal basis. It does not have to be a completely technical skill but activities that facilitate team dynamics while employing their skills. For example, marketing executives can participate in a team building activity where they are organized in teams and given a certain amount of money to purchase particular things. They have to make the budget fit without compromising the quality of their items and the time constraints. In the end, the participants have to realize that they have to think like their customers. Also, working on this activity in groups will encourage productive brainstorming.
Team building activities should also focus on conflict resolution. Although a chapter will be allotted for this, it is worthwhile to discuss conflict resolution in terms of team building. Different kinds of conflicts will plague the team members and threaten their relationship. Each member must be equipped with the necessary skills in handling conflicts in order to secure a harmonious relationship amongst themselves, their leaders, and the people they deal with on a regular basis.
Conflict is not total bane in an organization. It can facilitate the generation of brilliant ideas and strengthening of relationships, as long as the conflict is handled well.
One of the most sensible ways to manage conflict is to improve the communication lines among members of the organization. You may want to divide your team into pairs and let each pair position themselves back to back. One person should be holding a piece of paper and pencil while the other one holds an image of a shape (definite or abstract). The person holding the picture should describe the shape to the person with the pencil and paper, giving out as much details as possible. The pairs are given a time limit. Once the timer goes off, the pairs are supposed to compare their depiction to the original shape. How did the person with the picture describe the shape? Was it described well? Did the person with the paper and pencil draw the image accurately enough? Were there any communication problems? These are the questions that conflict resolution should tackle.
Conflicts usually stem from the lack of trust, a major team spirit killer. If you are conducting a team building seminar in a huge space, you can perform this activity. To do this, scatter obstacle objects (e.g. cones, chairs, boxes, blocks, tables) around the room. Again, assign the team into pairs. As a leader, take note that this activity is geared towards fixing trust issues. So, you may want to group two people who are having a difficult time trusting each other. Blind fold one person and keep the other person out of the “obstacle area”. Put the blindfolded person in the middle of the area and let the other one give instructions to the blindfolded person on how to get out of that area. The blindfolded person cannot talk or speak under any circumstances. The blindfolded person must avoid the obstacles on his or her way out. Let each pair strategize for a few minutes before beginning, but only on how to communicate during the game. Don’t let them see the area.
Leaders should facilitate solidarity, even outside team building sessions. As a leader, you should be able to identify if there are any barriers that are hindering people from working together as a team. Some teams, especially the big ones, tend to split into small cliques and teams. Leaders should be able to keep track of these things and recognize the cause, whether petty or serious. Sometimes, the cause can be as petty as different dress codes per department. If this is the cause of conflict, there should be one dress code imposed on all the team members.
This phenomenon is very common in large organizations (e.g. the marketing department getting into a conflict with the human resources department, one branch complaining about the head office, etc.). Leaders with managerial positions would be tempted to host a corporate social function in order to eradicate these boundaries but this plan can backfire if not planned properly. For example, in a casual corporate picnic where all employees are invited, they might still seek their friends and resort to cliques. Worse, this can possibly start a fight since all of the employees are
in one venue.
If you want to improve the relationships among members or co-workers, you can start by identifying the barriers or the markers that divide the people before gathering them together in a team building session or a social function. List down the specific conflicts amongst the team and work them out with the people involved. For example, cliques in the office could be caused by language and cultural barriers. FI this is the case, you can occasionally group people of different races for certain tasks.
Encourage transparency and honesty in different but very highly technical departments too. Sometimes, the rift gets bigger when two diverse groups are assigned to work with each other but one of them uses jargon terms when speaking to non-experts. Discourage this attitude from the employees, especially the technical personnel.
Team members are more likely to have strong relationships with each other if they have a good relationship with their leader. While your team is building relationships, guide and monitor them accordingly. Knowing that they have a leader they can consult and who can understand will make them feel secure and confident in forming relationships with their co-members.
Team building is a continuously ongoing process. Determining its success is not done in one sitting. And, any organization that seeks to stay in top shape should always seek to fortify their teams. This cannot be done by just one team building session. In the end, leaders should remember that team building is a long term process. People usually join an organization with the hopes of staying as long as possible, seeking growth and self-fulfillment. With this in mind, the leader should make it a point to establish team building as a continuous and ongoing process. It is futile to set up a teambuilding process only to return to normal activities as if no teambuilding activities ever took place. As time progresses, team building activities should be modified according to the members’ competencies, strengths, and weaknesses. Team building activities should be planned in relation to the fruits of previous team building sessions. There should never be an assumption that successful team building does not stop with one session. Organizational teams and relationships need to be nurtured constantly if they are to remain progressive and stable at the same time.