What Makes an Effective Leader?

As millennials continue to change the landscape of the employment experience, managers are being challenged with adapting new demands into their existing environments. All the while, leaders are also expected to exceed organizational goals in a tremendously competitive economy. However, the true balancing act comes into play when leaders juggle major initiatives in addition to their daily tasks, such as managing staff, responding to emails and phone calls, and tracking budgets.

As difficult as these challenges are, some managers are doing it and doing it well. They recognize that not succeeding is not an option for themselves or their organization. These people get the job done and are considered effective leaders. The big question here is how are they doing this, and what are the traits needed to replicate this success in other professionals?

Competencies of an Effective Leader

In a recent article for the Harvard Business Review, Dr. Sunnie Giles, leadership development consultant and president of the Quantum Leadership Group, focused her recent research around the question, “What makes an effective leader?” Her first round of findings produced worldwide results from 195 leaders in 15 countries from more than 30 global organizations. She grouped the most common competencies into five themes:

  • Demonstrates strong ethics and provides a sense of safety
  • Empowers others to self-organize
  • Fosters a sense of connection and belonging
  • Shows openness to new ideas and fosters organizational learning
  • Nurtures growth

Nature vs. Leadership

One of her more notable findings is that while all of these competencies are difficult for anyone to master, part of what makes these abilities even harder to improve is that they require a person to act against their nature. “When the amygdala registers a threat to our safety, arteries harden and thicken to handle an increased blood flow to our limbs in preparation for a fight-or-flight response. In this state, we lose access to the social engagement system of the limbic brain and the executive function of the prefrontal cortex, inhibiting creativity and the drive for excellence. From a neuroscience perspective, making sure that people feel safe on a deep level should be job #1 for leaders,” says Dr. Giles.

Steps To Become an Effective Leader

If it is not inherent in our internal systems to be good leaders, how does anyone become a good leader? Practice. Yes, Practice.

Someone who wants to be an effective leader can use Dr. Giles’ deep dive research to create tangible daily tasks that over a period of time will elevate their leadership success.

  • Communicate: Gain the trust of your team members by communicating clearly and often.
  • Create a genuine connection: Build real relationships with your peers by asking about their families and weekend plans with sincere interest.
  • Build confidence and inspire growth: Use every opportunity possible to recognize the achievements of your team and how their extra efforts impact the overall organization.
  • Lead by example: Look for opportunities to show team members how to do something rather than telling them.
  • Solicit feedback: Understand and use constructive feedback from your team in a way that will benefit everyone.
  • Increase your knowledge: Be an expert in your subject, and others will seek your input and respect your knowledge-base.

In addition to creating your own steps for moving forward with a plan to become an effective leader, Dr. Giles suggests looking inward and trying to reconnect with your “core values.” She uses a simple exercise called “Deep Fast Forwarding” where she asks someone to think about their funeral and what people are remembering and saying about them. This often helps a person to decide what makes up their core values. These deep beliefs will help guide the decision-making process of any professional.

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