Being a good leader takes work. And it’s not just about mastering the hard skills and technical expertise required to manage a team in your industry. Exceptional leaders — those who are respected and admired by both their team and upper management — also have “softer” skills that they put to use every day. Here are a few:
They’re emotionally intelligent
Building relationships — both with your team and cross functionally — is crucial in leading a team. That means interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence (EQ) are extremely important. EQ is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our emotions, as well as understand the emotions of others. It’s an intangible part of how we navigate social situations and then make decisions to achieve goals. Several studies have found that a strong EQ is a top predictor of a leader’s success. In one, international search firm Egon Zehnder International analyzed 515 senior executives and found that those with the strongest emotional intelligence were more likely to succeed over those who were strongest in both IQ or relevant previous experience.
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They inspire employees
Exceptional leaders are ones who inspire and consistently remind employees of the broader goal. Whether it’s reaching a sales number or disrupting an entire industry, a team needs regular reminders of what they’re marching toward. With a larger vision in mind, their day-to-day work has more purpose.
They lead by example
Great leaders make sure their daily behavior is a model for their team. They’re conscientious (meaning they always follow through on what they’ve promised), they respect people’s time (meaning they don’t make others wait unnecessarily), and they retain a thoughtful, objective approach to problems or issues (meaning they don’t fly off the handle reactively). They also have fun. Humor is a crucial part of making somewhere pleasant to work, and if employees see their managers letting their hair down a bit, they might feel more comfortable following suit.
They make decisions quickly
Good managers are decisive. Whether it’s a minor matter or a major strategic initiative, effective managers need to make — and then communicate — decisions quickly. Waffling or taking too long to come to a conclusion disrupts your team’s momentum and sets things off track. A laser focus on moving things forward at all times, and making decisions that support that progress, is crucial.
They empower their employees
Although the buck usually stops with them, exceptional leaders also encourage employees to reach strategic decisions on their own (offering constructive feedback along the way). Employees need to feel like their opinions and work matters — that they’re not just cogs in a wheel. This is especially key during meetings. It’s important to foster an environment where employees feel that it’s safe to speak up. Good leaders then facilitate conversations that empower the team to reach a strategic conclusion together. And when necessary, they step in and resolve any friction points.
They consistently remove roadblocks
Organizational roadblocks can thwart employee productivity and prevent important work from moving forward. If a project isn’t progressing at the pace you expected, remember that effective managers ask employees what’s getting in their way, rather than reprimanding them for falling behind. Then they work to remove those blockers, whether it’s by making sure they’re aligned with other teams, or implementing tools that can help employees do their job more efficiently. A manager’s job is to navigate politics and organizational hurdles so the team can focus on the work.
They clearly communicate expectations
All team members should have a clear idea of what they’re responsible for delivering on at all times. That’s why successful leaders regularly communicate expectations. Deliverables should be measurable (whether it’s a sales number or a deadline) and clearly tied back to the company’s overarching goals and mission. People should walk away from every meeting knowing exactly what they’re responsible for executing on.
They acknowledge and reward employees
A big raise at the end of the year is nice, but recognizing employees daily is also important. Respected managers take time to praise team members who excel. This can be as simple as stopping them in the hallway and saying “thanks,” or sending off a quick email to communicate a job well done. When employees feel like their good work is getting noticed, they’re more likely to keep it up.