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Photo by Thomas Barwick/DigitalVision/Getty
Jan 31, 2018

3 Ways to Make Yourself a Better Leader

The achievable goals that will start the first quarter of the year on a positive note.

The first quarter sets the tone for the year. If you want to improve your leadership skills this year, there is no time like the present to start. Here are three ideas for you that you can incorporate starting right now.

1. BUILD IN SMALL WINS

Of course, you should set objectives for the quarter and for the year, and certainly you want to set a high standard for your team. Building in small wins helps you motivate people towards larger, more difficult goals. The benefit of small wins is that they are discrete, manageable and easily attainable. Helping your team organize its work so that it has regular wins and then celebrating small successes builds momentum, better morale and an overall feeling of “winning culture.” You energize the team, and they also develop more confidence in you and your leadership.

Small wins should not be superficial. They should add to the business in meaningful ways. They should be measureable. They should demonstrate progress.

There are so many strategies for incorporating small wins. A sales leader I coach has been working with his team to develop and roll out a new pricing model. It’s complicated, painstaking work that will take at least six months. We figured out two small wins for the team that they could accomplish this month: creating a white paper analyzing the pricing models of the five top competitors and devising a simple pilot plan for a small segment of customers. Completing these milestones helped the whole team see progress in a complex and, at times, overwhelming process.

A CEO of a public company I coach had a more abstract initiative. She was concerned that the company was falling behind in its ability to innovate. Rather than spinning up a whole workstream, she decided to make the topic of innovation a theme for the year. She knew everyone was busy driving for major deadlines, so she only asked each functional unit for one idea to try this quarter to see if it would spark innovation.

The small win concept energized their teams. One functional unit took the mandate to streamline existing processes. Another one decided to host regular roundtables of startups and thought leaders to get fresh thinking on problems they were struggling with—and so on. The idea of small wins galvanized the various teams to support the key theme for the year.

2. BECOME A BETTER LISTENER

It’s a cliché, but it’s true: To become a better leader, become a better listener. You will certainly learn things you don’t already know. Your team will feel more valued. You will build more loyalty and goodwill, two crucial traits that you need when you want your team to follow you in difficult and uncertain times.

Being a better listener seems like it should be easy, but it’s not. Here are three tools to get you started

  • Avoid distracting devices. Put aside your technology and get into listening mode when you’re meeting with someone. If you’re on the phone, the same rules apply. Your cell phone, your computer and any other distraction get in the way of listening.
  • Get curious. Really think about what someone is saying and what might be behind their point of view. That will help you ask better questions. You might think you already know what they’re going to say or their point of view might make you uncomfortable. Both of these reactions are normal, but they are the enemy of listening. Make a conscious effort to clear your mind of preconceived ideas and what you think this person might say. If you feel defensive, notice what causes that reaction. Challenge yourself to learn something new about this person or his/her viewpoint.
  • Mirror back or paraphrase what people say to you. Sometimes you may very well be listening, but the person doesn’t always feel like you are. That could be because they don’t have the satisfaction of know that a message they are sending is being received. When you paraphrase their words back to them, they know they are really being heard.

3. RESOLVE YOUR TALENT CONCERN

An important part of being a better leader is making your team better. Think about the team. Is everyone in the right roles? Are they performing at a high level? Have you given them feedback to help them grow and perform better?

Now, be honest: Do you have some executives who are not performing as you’d like? Are you starting to dread interacting with certain people? Do you keep wondering if someone is the right person in a particular role?

Great leaders regularly step back and think about their executives. Some good actions you can take are:

  • Sit down with each of your key people and have an open-ended, one-on-one conversation to start off the year. How do they feel? How do they think they are doing? How do they think the company is doing?
  • Discuss expectations for the first quarter and for the year. Are they clear on your expectations of them? Do they know what success looks like? Do they have specific deliverables you’ve agreed to?
  • What are their career aspirations? What do they need from you to better support them? What specific feedback and suggestions do they have for you?

If you have any executives who are causing you concern, resolve that you will handle the issue in this first quarter. Have a heart-to-heart discussion with them and share your concerns. Make sure the executives clearly understand your expectations of them. See if they need more or different support from you. And if you don’t think they can change, create a transition plan. Having the wrong people on the team brings everyone down.

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