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What makes a great leader?

leaderIn my humble experience of the workplace I’ve already come across many management and HR styles. Some worked well for some personalities, some were great all-rounders and some proved ineffective. I can’t claim to be a manager or a leader, nor an expert on HR, but it’s rare to hear from a subordinate perspective, what makes a good manager.

The best managers I’ve ever had all possessed the following qualities, and I’d even go so far as to assert that you can’t go far wrong if you’re:

  • Consistent.
    This is in terms of both work and company culture. If your company culture is quite relaxed, don’t expect juniors to ‘earn their stripes’ and hold them to a higher standard than other staff members. Equally, don’t invent new rules to fit circumstances and only apply them once. If you’re planning to enforce social or professional rules, do so across the business, and don’t change the rules according to the employee. This will only serve to breed resentment amongst colleagues.
    Practice what you preach – if you demand a strong work ethic, then lead by example. If you have high social standards, make sure your behaviour matches up. If it doesn’t, those below you will notice. Studies have shown that feelings of social injustice within an organisation can lead to intentional or unintentional sabotage of the business.
  • Clear.
    Everyone knows that communication is key. But are you sure the way you’re communicating is translating the way you want it to? It’s easy to talk theory amongst other HR folk or managers and decide your style is working for you, but it’s the person on the receiving end who needs to understand and be receptive to what you’re saying.
    If you’re delegating, be clear about the task you’re setting, particularly if you’re dealing with a new employee. An extra five minutes of your time explaining a task in detail might feel like a nuisance, but it’s a small sacrifice compared to the hours of your time and your employee’s time fixing the task later on when it transpires it wasn’t what you wanted.
    If you’re setting goals, ensure that they’re tangible, if you’re tackling an issue, ensure you have concrete examples and try to provide a clear way forward. If your report comes out more confused than when the conversation began, you probably haven’t been as clear as you could be.
  • Compassionate
    It’s a difficult balance to strike between being a friend and being an effective leader. Try to put yourself in the shoes of your reports and respond to any issues with compassion. If somebody is struggling, try to find out why that is in a sensitive way. Remember, people might have difficulty discussing certain issues and it’s your job to make them feel as comfortable as possible in doing so, so everybody can be more productive.
  • Calm
    Ever been shouted at in a work scenario? It’s not a nice experience. From the subordinate perspective, it breaks a valuable connection and trust which can never be regained and leaves employees shaken and humiliated. Hardly the best way to generate company loyalty. People will be reluctant to flag up issues or own up to mistakes in case they set you off. If you know you have a temper, work on it. There are ways to communicate your disappointment or frustration without being aggressive.
  • Careful about credit.
    Whose idea was that? At a senior level, your voice will naturally be heard over those junior to you. If you use a report’s idea, make sure you note down that it was theirs and hand out credit where it’s due. In the short term it may be nice to bask in praise from your superiors, but you’ll have sowed the seeds of mistrust and, next time, your report will make sure they get in there with their ideas first.
    Credit where credit’s due is good for the team and the business as it encourages people to put forward more great ideas, knowing they will get the recognition they deserve.

In short, great management comes down to fairness. If you demand the same standards from everyone and behave the way you expect others to, no matter what level, convey your expectations clearly, show concern for your employees and keep a cool head in a potentially confrontational scenario, you’ll find people work harder for you, be more loyal to your organisation and contribute to a happy and easy working environment.

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