Following up on our post about three signs of toxic leadership, we wanted to take a few moments to look at the flipside. What are the habits of great leaders? How do strong managers keep their teams inspired and engaged?
And how can each of us become better leaders?
While toxic leadership often shares many similar traits, a funny thing about great leadership is just how many different forms it can take.
Evolving Models of Great Leadership
Looking beyond the classic model of the “charismatic leader” (increasingly deemed more myth than reality), we find countless iterations of leadership styles. Each come with different names, like democratic, coaching, or transformational leadership.
There are also important questions about how race and gender impact the perception of leadership, including how styles of leadership are valued. For example, Forbes reports on the Women Emerging Expedition, which is bringing together 24 women leaders from around the world to explore leadership models. The effort is looking more deeply at how we uplift:
Values like empathy, compassion, consensus building, listening, collaboration—leaders who prioritize the needs of the collective rather than the individual.
We here at Funding for Good aren’t the only ones thinking about leadership. Which is a good sign for the business and nonprofit sectors alike. More inclusive definitions of “great leadership” can only lead to stronger more sustainable organizations.
So instead of defining great leadership, we thought we’d look at three habits of great leaders we’ve seen in practice.
Leadership Habit 1: Acknowledging Team Members’ Contributions
Making your staff, board and volunteers feel valued is key to keeping great people on your team. The most obvious way to acknowledge your team members’ contributions and insights is to simply say so.
Of course, there’s always a balance to strike between positive and negative feedback. Managers often spend a lot of energy figuring out how to effectively give constructive feedback. But letting staff know what is working can be just as powerful.
Indeed, recent research shows that focusing on positive feedback can often yield the best results. Citing a study about feedback and student performance, Inc. reveals that:
…the more frequently students are praised and less often they are criticized—in social psychology terms, the greater the praise-to-reprimand ratio—the higher their on-task behavior.
That doesn’t mean negative or constructive feedback doesn’t have its place, particularly if it’s delivered in a productive and actionable way. But it’s just as important to consider giving positive feedback a prominent place in your management style.
The Effective Executive Director
Leadership Habit 2: Respecting Peoples’ Time
We’ve all wasted plenty of time in useless meetings where we wondered why we’d even been invited. It’s frustrating, demotivating, and exhausting. The last thing great managers want is for their staff to feel the same way.
Funding for Good has consistently found that respecting people’s time first requires understanding your organizational priorities and communicating them clearly.
We recommend all organizations start with a solid strategic plan. A strategic plan will provide a roadmap for your organization—articulating where you want to go, how you aim to get there, and the indicators you’ll use to assess success.
For example, you can use your strategic plan to:
- Make sure your board, staff, and volunteers all understand what you’re trying to achieve in clear and compelling language
- Set achievable and realistic annual goals, for your organization and by department
- Clarify roles for departments and individuals, demonstrating how their work ties into organizational goals
- Shift the focus of staff performance assessments from tracking hours to tracking outcomes
This approach can give both you and your staff valuable time back in your days—time that you can use to meet your shared goals.
Developing Successful Leadership through Strategic Planning
Leadership Habit 3: Setting the Standard of Always Growing
Finally, the great leaders we know are always searching for ways to grow.
Leadership isn’t a static state of being. And excellent leaders know how important it is to cultivate a curiosity and innovation mindset.
The truth is, we can always strengthen our leadership habits. We can learn to listen better. We can communicate more clearly. We can run better meetings and create more space for unexpected insights.
Just as importantly, we can invest in our people’s leadership—providing the training and support to help our staff and board members become great leaders too. That way, our team members can grow right alongside us.
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