Nobody is born a perfect boss. Most people in leadership roles have navigated a complex journey of triumphs and stumbles, with moments of brilliance and some lessons learned the hard way. That’s only natural!
Whether you were promoted from within or started the company, learning to be a better boss is an ever-evolving, challenging, and rewarding experience. Leaders never stop growing.
When you’re an employee, goals can often be pretty straightforward. Complete projects, meet deadlines, and aim for KPIs, but the role of a leader is more nuanced. Leading an effective team requires building a culture to achieve success and paying attention to your people (and what you all need to succeed). Fortunately, leadership is a skill! As with any skill, you can build on your strengths to achieve mastery over time.
Here are 10 leadership behaviors to help you be a better boss.
Set Your Vision and Inspire the Future
A clear and inspiring vision motivates individuals and brings teams together. Your vision must be specific enough to give your team clear, understandable goals and flexible enough to allow for adaptation and change as needed. It should be tied to overall company priorities.
Your excitement will be contagious if you are passionate about the vision and communicate it regularly. Create space for the team to share input and ideas on achieving it.
To feel connected to the vision, your team needs to feel a sense of urgency and understand the importance of achieving it. Keep your team updated as you progress toward the vision, celebrating successes along the way.
Teach the Why Behind What Employees Do
Employees who are only focused on what they need to do might begin to feel trapped in the get-things-done mundane. Teaching the “why” behind their responsibilities connects their actions to something bigger. It makes it easier for them to see their impact and prioritize effectively—and sometimes to even engage at all. Employees who understand the “why” may also be better equipped to adapt to changes. They are more empowered to contribute with innovation and problem-solving.
From a psychological standpoint, knowing the “why” taps into the intrinsic motivation that drives people to excel. When employees see the bigger picture, they feel a sense of purpose—and a good leader can help employees realize that. This understanding enhances productivity and fosters a culture of accountability and ownership.
Learn and Stay Curious
As a leader, you may have years of a proven track record. But business and technology never stop evolving. The most effective leaders continue to learn and stay curious. This keeps you sharp and sets an excellent example for your team.
Curiosity is a powerful tool for problem-solving, troubleshooting, and eliciting valuable insights and feedback from your team. Cultivating curiosity means asking important questions and uncovering potential challenges and solutions before they become problematic. Ultimately, it’s all part of not getting stuck in your ways.
Don’t Admire the Problem
When new, complex, or unfamiliar problems arise, leaders can get trapped in analysis paralysis. This tendency to “admire the problem” often stems from uncertainty or fear. Unfortunately, during the gap created by analysis paralysis, the problem can escalate.
If something comes up and you aren’t sure how to proceed, don’t ignore it or wait for it to resolve. Start immediately by clearly defining the issue. What is the problem, what is the root cause, and who is impacted by it?
Once you’ve defined the problem, you can:
- Brainstorm solutions. Don’t be afraid to get input from others. Examine the pros and cons of each solution.
- Make a decision. Pick the option that is most aligned with the interests of your company and affected team members.
- Take action and implement the solution. It’s time to put the plan into work. Don’t admire it.
Will 100% of problems be resolved on your first try? Probably not. However, by being willing to experiment and continue to learn, you are better positioned to tackle any challenge that arises. And celebrating failures and the opportunity they give to learn is an essential part of growth and future success.
Optimism in leadership is not the act of pretending everything is okay when it’s not. Leaders sometimes must have tough conversations and make hard decisions. However, an optimistic outlook balanced with realism makes you and your team more resilient and resourceful in the face of any challenge.
When you are optimistic, you set the tone for your team. Choosing optimism means you see opportunities where others see obstacles and inspire your team to envision possibilities. You see room for growth where some see failure. This empowering mindset allows you to approach challenges with a constructive, problem-solving attitude.
Say What You Mean (That’s What Leaders Do)
Paying attention to your communication is a powerful way to be a better boss. One critical component of effective communication is to say what you mean. This includes being honest but also means you are:
This clarity of communication fosters trust, eliminates confusion, and enhances productivity. It makes everything easier for your team because they understand what you want them to do.
Provide Simple and Clear Messaging
Some of the worst misunderstandings are a result of assumptions. It’s best not to assume that because you know something, your team does, too.
Straightforward messaging includes all the following:
- It is concise.
- It uses plain and accessible language.
- It is well-structured to follow a logical flow.
- It repeats the most critical points or instructions.
- It avoids unnecessary details or confusing sidebars.
- It employs visual aids where necessary.
A great way to continually develop your communication skills is to check for understanding. Ask your team for feedback and questions, so you know you delivered your message effectively.
Crave a Diversity of Thought
Your employees are your biggest asset, and if you hire well, there are ways they are more capable and smarter than you. A good leader cultivates their team’s creativity, innovation, and abilities by listening and making diversity of thought safe.
Welcoming diversity of thought is good for morale, but it’s also a strategic imperative to give your business a competitive advantage. A range of viewpoints leads to innovative solutions, a richer company culture, better decision-making, and a more adaptable and resilient team.
The challenge for most people in cultivating an environment where opposing viewpoints are welcome is confirmation bias. Sometimes, a different opinion will push against your understanding of the world. The automatic human tendency is to reject that idea to maintain internal continuity. However, the most effective leaders are willing to change their minds.
Encourage Your Employees
Encouraging employees helps maintain momentum. Celebrate milestones and successes, big and small, using the opportunity to remind your team of the vision and why it’s important.
Giving praise to your team and acknowledging their contributions can be highly impactful and make a big difference to your employees. Here are a few best practices:
- When praising an employee, be specific about how your praise or encouragement relates to their contributions. Understand what they will best connect with and respond to. One way to discover this is by learning their language of appreciation.
- Give timely recognition and encourage good work as soon as you see it. Take your cues from your team and your leaders to know if this should be public or private. (See next bullet point for why!)
- When appropriate, give your acknowledgment publicly to bring awareness to what your team is working on and the impact of what they do. But know that some team members will prefer private acknowledgment rather than a spotlight, so feel free to tailor your approach.
- Encourage effort and success. Outstanding effort doesn’t always translate into visible success, but it’s still impactful to recognize it. That means praising the behavior rather than the outcome.
- Don’t play favorites. Make encouragement a regular part of your leadership style for everyone on your team across all projects.
A cohesive team collaborates more effectively, is more engaged, and has better accountability. The efforts you invest in building a cohesive team pay off in levels of performance that are hard to replicate.
Many of the strategies on this list contribute to building togetherness. In addition, establishing shared goals, modeling mutual respect, and creating team rituals such as social events or celebrations add to a team’s cohesion. Learn more in our free workshop dedicated to helping leaders build togetherness.
Remember, You Can Always Be a Better Boss
The fact that you are reading about how to be a better leader means you care about your team and want them to succeed. Exceptional leadership is a process, not a destination. The strengths you have today are the foundation for your continued growth and development.
Every day offers a new chance to engage with your team, to listen more closely, to foster togetherness, and to encourage their best performance. Sometimes, being a great leader is less about big wins, other times it’s removing road blocks and clearing their path to excel, but don’t forget about the small, poignant moments that impact your team.