How to lead a team effectively

Being kind and understanding might sound obvious but it goes a long way 
by Bethan Rees

Influencing Teams: complete our Professional Refresher module and answer the questions at the end to earn 45 minutes' CPD

Leadership and influencing are key personal skills that are critical to managing a team effectively. Our Professional Refresher module on influencing teams says: “Leadership is not about a position or a job title, it is about the ability to influence others. Anyone has the ability to influence, but leaders become consciously aware of this ability and then develop skills and attributes that enhance it. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II said: ‘I know of no single formula for success, but over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.’”

Section two sums up influence at its “most basic level” as being “simply about changing someone’s behaviour”. “But,” it continues, “the ability to influence others is, in fact, an essential skill that must be mastered by anyone who wishes to achieve both life and work success.” It also describes the connection between leadership and influence, saying that without the former, the latter would be “ineffective”. 

According to section three, the commonly shared characteristics of effective leaders include: being kind, thoughtful, decent and caring; being a good listener; being honest; being professional at all times; and being enthusiastic. These, amongst others, are crucial to gaining the respect of the team, it says.  

Although there are no hard or fast rules on how to lead a team effectively, there are some simple guidelines and strategies you can follow. 

Be kind Being a kind leader doesn’t mean being a weak leader,” writes Emily Marsh in a blog for T-Three, a consultancy that focuses on behavioural change. “Kind leadership brings in all the different elements of authenticity, transparency, warmth, building trust, and empowering people. So, when we talk about kindness, what we really mean is including a little of each of these different subsections of being a good leader in your day-to-day approach and intent,” says Marsh. 

If a manager isn’t kind or compassionate, this can cause employees to quit, according to an article by Ieva Baranova for Lifehack. She refers to a poll that states that 50% of employees quit because they dislike their manager, and she gives some advice on how a manager can show they care for their team. These include celebrating progress and achievements, listening to what the team has to say and addressing their concerns. She says that it’s important not to overload the team with work or be selfish. 

Making mistakes and constructive criticism

Giving a team permission to make mistakes can help harness a culture of accepting that trying and failing is better than being timid within a team, writes Lolly Daskal, president and CEO of leadership and consulting firm Lead From Within, in an article for Inc. “If you are going to create great teams, coach those you lead that mistakes are part of the process and they have the power to turn you into something better than you were before,” she reports.   

Offering constructive criticism can help boost your team too. Baranova says that valid and rational opinions can be expressed in an approachable manner “rather than an oppositional one”. She writes: “When you evaluate your team’s work, give them feedback that’s helpful, specific, and sincere. Don’t be shy to praise, but also be direct and even strict when necessary.”

Fostering a positive work environment 

The physical and emotional space of a workplace can have an impact on a team. As a leader, you should create an environment of fun and enjoyment, Daskal says. “Everyone performs better when they are able to relax and are having a good time. Fun is the element that allows people to make it through the difficult tasks and overwhelming deadlines, and the best leaders know how to make it work without compromising the team’s work ethic or commitment to excellence.” 

Fostering a positive social environment is important, but attention should also be paid to the physical space. “You’ll be surprised to see that even very small interior tweaks that don’t require major investments can improve your workers’ performance,” she writes. Some suggestions include starting an in-house library where the team can read for pleasure in a break, setting up entertainment or break rooms, and adding art and plants to the workplace.

Recognise and reward

Leaders should recognise and reward their team’s successes. Susan M Heathfield, a management and organisation development consultant, says in a post for The Balance Careers that team members need to believe that when a task is completed, their contribution will be recognised. “Successful leaders are honest about the potential risks inherent in the chosen path as well as the potential rewards,” she writes. “They communicate, not just the overall direction, but any information their followers need to successfully and skillfully carry out their responsibilities. They recognise that for their followers to perform most effectively they need to understand the big picture.”

Daskal agrees that team members need praise. She says: “If you want a great team [and] happy people, you have to praise them and acknowledge them, and praise them some more. When you let your team know you’re aware of what they can be and what they can become, that is when you can begin reaping the benefit of their growing greatness.”

Jason Olson, writing on Seattle-based digital marketing firm Portent’s blog, says that even the smallest of achievements should be praised. “Psychologists discovered long ago that when you positively reinforce a desired behaviour, people are far more likely to repeat that behaviour. Most people want to do the right thing, which means you will find far more success in leading a team if you focus on using positive reinforcement rather than negative actions like threats and fear tactics,” he writes. 

Born or learnt behaviour?

Section three of our Professional Refresher module makes the point that good leadership can be learnt. It says: “The ability to lead and influence is not a special aptitude that is limited to a select few. Rather, with practice, influence is a skill that anyone can develop and improve; however, as with learning any specific skill, it does take significant time and effort to do.”

It also notes that being the best at the job is not on the list of attributes of a good leader. “While it is true that leaders understand and can do the job, they are not necessarily the best at it – instead, it is their ability to influence that is key,” it says. 

What does it take to lead a team effectively? Leave your comments below. 

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Published: 15 Nov 2019
  • Soft Skills
  • The Review
  • Career Development
  • Influence
  • professional refresher
  • Management
  • leadership
  • Career advice

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