How to be an effective leader: 10 tips

Small Business Guides

5 min read

There's more to leading than just being a good manager. It takes insight, empathy and hard work. We spoke to Chiquita Searle, of the League of Extraordinary Women, to find out how you can be an effective leader.

Leading is tougher than managing

If you manage people, you'll know it can be hard work. Every employee is different, with unique needs, desires and motivations. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. And you have to figure those out if you want to get the best out of your staff.

But leading is even tougher than managing. Leading means:

  • bringing people with you on the journey
  • tapping into their emotions and engaging them with your vision
  • understanding their motivations and linking those to your organisation’s future
  • connecting all employees to a common goal.

To explore what this means in practical terms, we spoke to Chiquita Searle, General Manager of the League of Extraordinary Women. Her organisation relies on volunteers, female entrepreneurs, interns and remote staff. They’re all working towards a common goal, so we asked her to share her tips about leadership.

Being an effective leader is often easier said than done. But this guide will help you on your path to becoming one.

1. Lead from the front

If you want to be seen as a leader, you must act like one. You are accountable for your business. In simple terms, the buck stops with you.

Your employees will look to you for guidance. They will take their cues from you. Through inspiration, a good leader can change an entire organisation for the better.

As leader you are the heart of your business – you are its pulse. If you skip a beat, so does your organisation. So stand tall when leading your people, and lead from the front.

2. Make room for mistakes

Failure is part of learning. We know that’s true for children and it applies to adults too. Failure teaches lessons that success never can. Yet many workplaces don’t allow space for failure.

If you want to lead, be prepared for mistakes. Instead of reprimanding your employees when things go wrong, ask them what they learned. Then make sure they apply that new learning to their work.

Being lenient about genuine mistakes will encourage your employees to experiment with new ideas. Some of them will pay off for your business – big time.

3. Empower your team

If you’ve hired the right employees then you’ll know what your team members can do. That means you believe in their skills, experience and personalities.

So tell them that. Give them the gift of your belief in them. Your employees will blossom with the knowledge that you really value them. Their confidence will inspire them to achieve great things.

4. Temper criticism with praise

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. You may have to steer your employees back onto the right course if they lose their way.

Try to do so without undermining their confidence. The ‘feedback sandwich’ is a good way to achieve this:

  • Start with a positive.
  • Deliver the negative, but do it constructively.
  • End with another positive.

5. Show your team the big picture

If your staff feel like small cogs in a giant machine, you won’t get the best out of them. So take the time to explain how each of them fits into your organisation.

Everyone likes to feel part of something big. Employment is about more than earning a wage – it's about making a valuable contribution.

Helping others can be intrinsically rewarding in a way that money never can. Make every employee feel part of the big picture. Share your business plan with them.

6. Focus on development

Employment is a two-way street. Your employees are looking for more than financial reward. They need:

  • help achieving their career goals
  • the benefit of your wisdom and experience
  • the space and time to learn new skills
  • your guidance and advice.

The more time you spend actively helping your employees, the better they will feel. Your support and investment in their future will help motivate them.

They will repay you many times over – with commitment, hard work and good ideas.

If you really want your employees to blossom in their roles, they need room to grow. But if you micromanage them, always watching over their shoulder, you’ll stunt that growth.

7. Offer ownership

Good leadership means telling every member of your team that they are part-owner of the final product or service. It means giving them the space to:

  • be creative
  • try new things
  • bask in their successes
  • learn from their failures.

So take a step back. Trust the people you hired to do their job – and do it well.

8. Support your people

Good leaders know that all team members can be equal contributors. Success should be shared with everyone.

Don’t concentrate solely on your front-end or high-profile staff. That’s like thanking only the waiter or waitress after a great meal. True, they did some of the work – but only as part of a team.

It’s often the back-office staff who keep a business running, so don’t neglect them. Acknowledge everyone’s efforts. They’ll appreciate it, and it will help keep them committed to the business.

9. Practice what you preach

As a business owner, there’s probably nobody above you in the management structure. That means nobody’s holding you accountable for your actions, at least not directly.

So you have to do it. Hold yourself to the highest possible level of accountability. This is one of the hardest parts of being an effective leader, but it’s vital:

  • You set the example that your employees follow.
  • Any expectations you set must apply to you too.
  • If you want them to be punctual and work hard, you must do the same.
  • Your team will do what you do – not what you say.

10. Keep learning

Some people might seem to be born leaders, but anyone can become an effective leader. Leadership can be learned, but you have to work at it. That means:

  • being consciously aware of your own actions and motivations
  • challenging yourself every day
  • getting feedback from the people you employ – and acting on it.

Above all, leadership means understanding the people you are leading. If you empathise with those around you, they are more likely to follow your lead.

Being an effective leader is a full-time job

If you want to be a good leader, you have to keep on your toes. It’s all too easy to drift back into being just a manager, and letting your business tick over.

Yet leadership is where the magic will really happen. A true leader will tap into the vision of an organisation and use it to engage employees.

Good leaders inspire and enthuse their staff, and the business gets a huge boost as a result. With good leadership, the sky’s the limit.