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5 ways to be a better leader

When it comes to leadership, some qualities are intangible. But others can be directly assessed. For instance, research has linked effective leadership to the amount of sleep executives are getting. (Not surprisingly, the more sleep they get, the more effectively they lead.)

Another meta-analysis found that extroversion and conscientiousness were great predictors of leadership success. (Neuroticism, as it happens, was not so helpful.)

You’re probably pretty set in your extroversion or introversion, but what else can you do to be a better leader for your team? Try these strategies to improve your management game.

Be self-aware

“As a leader, you are an orchestrator who needs to be focused on how to help the members of their team to perform at their best,” says Patricia Thompson, Ph.D., a corporate psychologist and president of Silver Lining Psychology. “To do this, you need to understand your strengths, weaknesses, stress behaviors, values, and triggers.”

Understanding where you excel allows you to leverage your strengths intentionally. For instance, if you’re a great relationship builder, use that to your advantage. But also understanding what challenges you allows you to be aware of your weak spots so they don’t hold you back.

“If you tend to have an excessive sense of urgency or impatience, you can be mindful of those times when your impatience is getting the best of you, so that you don’t have any unintended consequences when leading others,” Thompson says.

Focus on coaching and developing people

Strong leaders know they can’t do everything by themselves, and they are only as good as the teams around them.

“They really put an emphasis on developing their people to help them grow their skills,” Thompson says. “As a leader, you should know each individual’s career goals, and be mindful of what motivates them. Then you can be intentional about giving them projects and feedback that will help them grow.”

This approach not only gets work done now, but also prepares them to get even more work done in the future.

Be willing to talk about uncertainty

When companies go through big changes, the executive level sometimes decides that every communication needs to send a strong signal that this is the “right” way forward. “Often, leaders purposely avoid discussions where there is any hint of the unknowns, of which there are always many,” says Rick Lozano, a keynote speaker and talent development professional in San Antonio, Texas. “Organizational transformation is a messy business, and there is often ambiguity, lack of clarity, and a bit of building the plane while we are flying it.”

In the absence of information, employees’ minds fill in the gaps. And sometimes those stories cause unnecessary stress, misdirection, and suspicion that kills engagement and productivity.

“It’s okay for a leader to say, ‘I don’t know.’” Lozano says. “It is okay for a leader to say, ‘We don’t have every single detail figured out, but here’s what we are trying to accomplish and we will figure it out together. People would much rather have a leader who is honest and willing to have the hard conversations than the leader who is certain but silent.”

Be empathetic

Research has found that executives who are conditioned to see the world from someone else’s point of view produce better outcomes. “Empathize by finding common emotional experiences,” says Nate Regier, a psychologist, communications expert, and CEO of global advisory firm Next Element, and author of Conflict Without Casualties.

For Carlota Zimmerman, a success strategist and career coach in New York City, an empathetic leader made a strong impression twenty years ago after one of her cats died. “In the midst of a busy morning, the reality of a dead cat hit me, and I burst into tears,” says Zimmerman, who at the time was working in network news.

“I’ll never forget my manager taking me into his office and gently soothing me as I wept. I apologized, and he smiled and said, ‘For what? Being human?’ After that, I was his. I worked my tail off for him.”

Learn to laugh

Any executive looking to move up the ladder would do well to cultivate a strong sense of humor.

In one study by the Bell Leadership Institute, employees asked to describe the strengths and weaknesses of senior colleagues mentioned. “Sense of humor” twice as much as any other phrase, along with “work ethic.”

“Humor is what breaks the ice,” Zimmerman says. “Humor is a great way to connect with employees and colleagues. In a demanding office or profession. A sense of humor can save the day and make people feel as if they’re part of the team.”

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