8 Best Practices for Effective Leadership
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” - John F. Kennedy
By CODY J. PERRON — It is a cold hard truth that some employees will manipulate the “system.” Leaders should develop a sound understanding of balancing fairness with firmness. We must continue to learn and continue to evolve. Last month's article discussed investing in employees, learning from them, and adapting the organizational culture. But what happens when your investment goes awry? What if employees become less productive and take advantage of your benevolence? This balance is often difficult to achieve. If a manager is too lenient, he could lose respect, be overlooked, and employees could be less productive. Conversely, if a leader has a dictatorial or dismissive leadership style morale could decrease, and followers could give minimum effort.
This article will discuss some best practices that have helped me achieve balance in my leadership and management experiences. While my specific approaches may need to be adapted to fit your particular organization, they have been effective in my roles as a leader in both private and government sectors. I encourage you to find what works for you.
Set Clear Expectations
As a leader, we must set clear expectations for our employees. We cannot allow any room for interpretation. Determine the best method to discuss your expectations and be very methodical in your approach. I prefer speaking to the unit as a whole initially, and if one-one-one counseling is required, I keep that option open. Call a meeting, relate your expectations, and allow employees to ask questions. Remember, although you don’t want to be a dictatorial leader, your operation is also not a democracy. While constructive criticism should be welcomed at all times, no one should attempt to undermine or impede you or your expectations.
No one likes to discuss policy. But, it is a necessary evil. Policies to include EEO, sexual harassment, disciplinary action, and more should be thoroughly explained. While this is generally the practice of a Human Resources department, it is good practice for leaders to discuss again with your employees. Reiterate your intent to follow policy, in particular in executing a disciplinary action for infractions. Again, allow for an open discussion of policies and constructive criticism. Sometimes these criticisms can lead to more efficient dialogue, policy, and operations.
The “grey area” can be your friend
While this may sound counterproductive to follow a policy, finding the “grey” in a black and white system will garner you support and respect from employees. The simple fact is that there is much grey area in leading and managing. For example, you may feel that some infractions do not warrant disciplinary action. A simple yet stern verbal warning will suffice, even if the policy was broken. It is up to you as a leader to determine your threshold on what level of infraction you can permit and what level you must punish. Operating in the “grey” can be a risky tactic as upper management could hold you accountable. If so, be confident in your decision, stand up for your team member, and accept the consequences. But remember, to maintain the balance, repeated infractions should not go unpunished.
Set the tone
Someone will challenge you. An employee will push the limits and test you. It is inevitable. Before setting an example of someone, ensure the infraction is worth the disciplinary action. Remember, you want to be fair but also firm (see my ‘grey area’ note above). The punishment must fit the “crime.” If the infraction warrants action, execute and don’t look back. Remember, this is not a negotiation.
Your hard stance on tone-setting, policies, or expectations will undoubtedly cause some conflict with internal “cliques.” As a leader, expect it. You will never be able to please everyone and will undoubtedly face conflict. Conflict leads to chaos and chaos to collaboration. When employees are allowed to communicate their criticisms openly you will then begin to understand their concerns about your expectations and operations. Listen to them and see how you can make this work in your favor. If you feel their concerns are valid, consider change and take this opportunity to collaborate. You will earn their respect for it.
Part of being an effective leader is learning to adapt. No one likes a stickler. If someone has a better idea or policy than your own, adapt and make the change. If the policy allows for more productivity, it could make you and your team stand out to superiors. When making the change, be sure to give credit to whoever had the idea. It demonstrates humility on your part and garners respect from your employees.
Nothing can offset the balance more than an insecure leader. Personal insecurities are detrimental to effective leadership. Strong-willed employees may challenge you. Be strong in your convictions and stand by your principles. You will be respected for it later.
You should continuously follow up with your staff on both personal and professional levels. Feel them out, learn who they are. After a disciplinary action, take the time to swing by their operations and see how things are going. This will let them know the disciplinary action is not personal. They’ll begin to respect you more as being firm but fair. By building that rapport, you will continue to maintain the necessary balance.
Finally, leadership is a process. It is a complex dynamic that has continued to evolve throughout history. As a leader, it is important that you also continue evolving and developing your mastery of leadership. Learning should be perpetual in this evolution. But remember, just as no organization is alike, no leadership style is alike. Develop your style and keep in mind the tough but fairness balance.