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10 Tips for Leadership Success

By Katherine Craig

Family Services EAP, Solutions Newsletter, February 2011


Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.
-Stephen Covey

We all know there isn't a 'magic wand' when it comes to effective leadership. It's a deliberate, daily endeavour that requires great effort and creativity. Good leaders can elevate team performance to unexpected levels when they conduct themselves with clarity and commitment. Whether you're just beginning your career as a team leader or trying to re-energize your department, here are some simple guidelines that can help you to become a more effective and successful leader.

1. Gather feedback from unlikely sources. Ask for feedback, not only from the usual sources such as your boss, peers and reports, but from unusual sources as well. Administrative staff often represents the point of continuity as bosses come and go. They know the teams and the particulars. Ask their opinion. Another great source is the 'invisible staff' - you know who I mean - the cafeteria staff, the office cleaners, the folks that ensures you have a clean office, empty wastebasket and coffee in your cup. They are listening to all the conversations around them (which leads to another topic: conversations meant to be private but aren't) and are a good gauge of employee "temperature." For general public input, ask your cabbie about your organization or field of expertise next time you take a ride. They have lots to share!

2. Read Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass, 2004) and make your meetings more effective. People are constantly telling me that the meetings they attend are boring, ineffective and a waste of valuable time. Define your meeting goals. You should know what they are if you're chairing the meeting. Read lots, keep learning - I like the "Weekly Hotlist" email newsletter from .

3. Keep your boss informed with monthly written updates. Bullets only. Executive summaries should be sufficient, details can be provided if required. If you can put it on a chart for easy reading all the better. This lets you keep your boss informed but is also a great venue to identify your successes. Performance reviews are always just around the corner, if you don't keep your boss informed (especially of victories) then there's little to set you apart from the crowd.

4. Have two working retreats per year with your team. They don't have to be expensive. Retreats should have four main components: team building, strategic planning, skills development and reflection on successes. Remember that focussing on success leads to more success. A facilitator can take a retreat from good to great, and can allow you to focus on your own participation at the retreat rather than the food, seating, room temperature, etc. A small investment in expertise will net you large returns on your retreat.

5. Don't let the rumour mill get ahead of real information from you. Be the leader that the team needs. Nature abhors a vacuum so if you don't provide information then people will listen to the rumour mill whether it's true or not. Hearing about your company crisis from the news creates an internal crisis and your star employees will start job hunting. Leaders often tell me that they don't know what to say, especially if head office is still figuring out the next steps. So talk about that! People don't expect you to be perfect and to have all the answers; they expect you to keep the lines of communication open. Don't forget to validate people's fears - if it's real to them it's real. Talk about it and reassure the group that as soon as you have an update to share you will.

6. Have a plan. Les Stroud from Survivor Man says the key to survival is having a plan. This also applies to work. You should be able to sketch out your high level strategy in 10 minutes for anyone that asks. The plan doesn't have to be fancy or outlined using the latest technological tools. I've seen great plans outlined on a scrap piece of paper. The plan is meant to be reviewed and shifted as your priorities and information changes. Without a plan your team will think they don't have a leader. Use it to guide the team, inform your stakeholders and keep yourself on track.

7. Be positive. Les Stroud says a positive attitude is the other part of the survival equation. Think of it - if you aren't positive about your plan why would your team follow you? Positivity is infectious. Teams who start meetings by spending the first 5 minutes reviewing successes from the previous weeks are cited to be much more likely to have a positive can-do meeting.

8. Take time for reflection on a regular basis. Pause once every week or two and have another look at your strategic plan. Think about the events of the week and analyse how they inform you for your future approach. If you can't do this effectively by yourself consistently get a coach. As your professional development partner, a good coach will guide and assist you through structured reflection. Reflection helps you answer the question "Am I in the right place at the right time?".

9. Have fun. The other day a client told me their boss wasn't fun so the workplace wasn't fun. They weren't talking about the clown-of-the-office kind of fun, but someone who understood that humour can often make the stress of the day manageable. Don't be afraid to laugh and smile - it will help your staff see you as an approachable leader and will help everyone (including you) relax.

10. Be calm. The biggest fatality on the highway of overwork is the sense of calm. You set the bar for your staff in every aspect of the job. If you are using words like "swamped" and "never-ending work" then you brand your team attitude accordingly. Assist your team in identifying efficiencies that can make the day a bit easier. Usually they have lots of ideas that can make a difference and are just waiting for you to ask! (See Tip #2 - often it's about the meetings.) Frequently you can't regulate the amount of work coming in but you have total determination over your state of mind when facing it. A calm leader transmits to the team they have no need to be stressed and you are in control.