A new job often means taking on the daunting prospect of a leadership role. The outsider parachuted into a leadership situation within an unfamiliar working environment faces an array of challenges. Initial difficulties, such as establishing good working relationships and getting to grips with the processes and culture of the organization, are usually short term. Others challenges, such as effecting real change within an organization, can often take months or even years to achieve. If your task is to take charge of a department or manage an important project, then good leadership skills are vital.
Leadership implies a management role, yet the terms ‘manager’ and ‘leader’ shouldn’t be regarded as interchangeable. For one thing, there are a great many managers who are not leaders in any real sense. They are there to administer, allocate resources and deliver on goals set by others.
The leader, on the other hand, is much more than an administrator. The leader is there to impart a vision and goals for a department, organization or project and to inspire others with that vision. In many cases – particularly in terms of project management – the leader will also be a hands-on manager who focuses on details. But in other cases, the leader will rely on the skills of others to turn the department’s overall vision into a deliverable reality. The important thing to remember is that the leader sets the agenda.
Anyone seeking to sharpen their leadership skills should bear in mind the following principles:
- Communicate First and foremost, a leader must have a clear idea of what he or she is seeking to achieve, either in terms of specific project goals or an overall vision for the department or organization. The next stage is to communicate those goals to the team, winning hearts and minds in the process. It’s not just a question of dishing out orders and explaining what must be done, you must also be clear on the reasons why. You should also be prepared to address any skepticism on the part of your team.
- Motivate Leaders don’t necessarily have to be liked, but arguably the most successful leaders generate tremendous loyalty. Much of this comes down to good communication, but it’s still important to keep the team motivated. Giving credit where it’s due is also important.
- Delegate A good leader knows the strengths and weaknesses of individual team members and will delegate tasks and responsibilities accordingly. Those who are given management responsibility within a particular project should ideally be given as much autonomy as possible.
- Set achievable goals Credibility is vital. For instance, setting an over-optimistic time frame for a particular project may look good on paper, but if the resources simply aren’t there the leader will lose credibility with both co-workers and those further up the chain.
- Innovate Leaders are often suspicious of received wisdom and traditional ways of doing things. One function of leadership is to drive improved performance by looking at the people and processes within an organization and setting out an agreeable plan to create more effective ways of working.