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Being an effective leader is learned skill, but you can apply some simple techniques to build and drive a powerful team.
Leadership is highly valued and rewarded. Learn how to be a great leader, and there’s no end to what you can achieve. If you can in turn help someone become a better leader, not only will you get more out of them, but they’ll also get more from their team. Their peers will learn by example and step up their game.
Often leadership is explained in different ways. Most of the time these descriptions revolve around leadership attributes such as integrity, openness, dedication and setting a good example. These are important—and accurate. However, I’ve always felt they needed to be put into the context of a more-holistic model. By deconstructing leadership down to its elemental components, it’s easier to see how these attributes fit into the bigger picture. Armed with this conceptual model, you can focus on a weak link in your overall skill set, understand its impact and identify a set of tools to address it.
The primary components of leadership are:
Starting with these basic building blocks, it’s easy to illustrate what good leadership looks like. People will always follow an effective leader toward a worthy goal (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 Leadership deconstructed.
Not all situations have such good alignment. Some people have great ideas, but just can’t get others to follow them. In other words, there may be a leader, but no followers (see Figure 2).
Figure 2 Great leaders get people to follow them.
A variant of this problem is when a leader can get some people to follow him, but can’t get enough people to move in the right direction to have a big impact (see Figure 3).
Figure 3 Great leaders get lots of people to follow.
This is an often-overlooked part of the equation. It’s not enough to have followers and to guide them toward a goal. Great leaders guide the team toward a worthy goal. Some people appear to be strong leaders because they’re able to motivate and energize groups of people (see Figure 4). Yet consistent lack of good judgment actually makes them a worse leader than someone with good judgment but bad people skills.
Figure 4 Descriptive attributes of the leadership model.
Using this taxonomy for leadership components (followers, leader, goal), we can look at various attributes of leadership in terms of how they affect each of the components.
Considering those attributes, it’s easy to put some of the most-common leadership advice into context and to see how it affects the overall quality of leadership. Value has to be the most important aspect of leadership. Knowing what to pursue is essential.
So the first challenge of a leader is making sure the goal is worthy. Some leaders have a vision for something they want to create. Others are able to craft goals from the consensus of people around them. In either case, it’s important to have a clear picture of the goal, a belief that the goal is achievable and a belief that, once achieved, the goal will provide significant value.
Many times I’ve landed in a role where the first order of business is to help the organization work through major change such as a re-org or a new strategic direction. It’s exciting to be able to help a team craft a vision, turn the vision into concrete steps and participate in the successes that come as a result of the changes.
Before I push for changes, though, I ask the team members about the roadmap and the team’s goals. It’s amazing how many different answers I often hear. When there’s a lack of a shared understanding of the goals and the roadmap, it indicates that the organization needs some alignment.
People come to work with a certain amount of energy and time they can distribute between their various priorities. Without a shared sense of priorities, time and resources are diffused. This translates to a less-effective organization. One of the biggest challenges that a leader faces is getting people to allocate their time and energy toward the common goal. To create alignment, a leader has to clearly articulate the direction, ensure people are motivated to get there, and create an environment that helps people move in the right direction. This breaks down into the following three key components:
Many think simply getting the team to move faster is the most important way to improve productivity. While it’s indeed important, the biggest productivity gains come from ensuring the goal is solid and the direction is solid. This is often phrased as “working smart versus working hard.” However, once you have the team working smart, it’s time to get the best of both words—working smart and working hard. Great leaders know how to beat the drum and can get the team to move faster than it otherwise would have if left to its own devices. There are many techniques to do this, but they all fit into a few key categories:
Bringing more people on board doesn’t necessarily mean hiring more people. There are other ways to increase the size of your team. It can mean working with peers or stakeholders outside of your organization to influence them to contribute to your project. Another great tactic is to discuss your project with the executives in your company. Ensure it’s on their radar, that they know why the project is important, and that they know how they can help it be successful. Here are some key techniques for getting more people on board:
Armed with these techniques, it will be much easier to expand your network of influence and get more people driving toward your goal. Of course, leadership isn’t just getting more people on board. It’s also about the quality of the people.
Once the team is moving in the right direction and at a good clip, it’s time to look at the individual team members. It’s amazing how much of a difference one or two superstars can make to the team’s overall productivity. Great leaders are always looking for opportunities to improve the overall skillset of their team. There are three key ways to do this:
Now take a fresh look at your current initiatives and projects you’re leading. Are you confident the objective is on target, going in the right direction and boiled down to its essence? Are you struggling to get enough people to follow or getting people to move fast enough? Hone in on the areas that aren’t progressing as well as you’d like. Give these techniques a try and you’ll likely be pleased with the results.
Ryan Haveson has more than 15 years of experience leading engineering teams and delivering software and services for some of the world’s most recognized brands, including Xbox and Windows. He was a group manager in the Windows Experience team for Windows 8. He and his team designed and delivered end user- and developer-facing features, including the live tile notifications platform and the new Task Manager. He’s currently leading the engineering systems group at Qualcomm Inc. for the Windows/Windows Phone on Snapdragon division in sunny San Diego. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at linkedin.com/in/ryanha.