New to Management? 5 Tips to Help You Become a Great Leader

November 26, 2020

In Management & Organizational Performance

how to become a great leader at work

When we think of leadership, there is often a stereotypical image of an army general, with an authoritarian voice, decisive mind, and charismatic aura. Perhaps you think of Gordon Gekko from “Wall Street” or Miranda Priestly from “The Devil Wears Prada”. Did Hollywood paint an accurate picture of great leadership, or did the characters influence us into making unfounded assumptions? We must dig deeper to find out what it takes to be a good leader in the corporate world, and how you can learn to be a great leader and engage your team to the fullest.

1. Nice Guys & Gals Finish First

Studies found that leaders who are perceived as ‘nice’ perform better as managers The main reason is trust; employees feel greater trust, loyalty, and are more inspired by someone who is warm and kind versus someone tough and skills oriented. From a biological perspective, it makes perfect sense. While our brains are attuned to threats (whether the threat is a raging lion or a raging boss), our brain’s stress reactivity is significantly reduced when we observe kind behaviors. Being a nice boss, not only increases your social status, it also helps mitigate your employees’ stress level. It’s a win-win!

How you can become a more compassionate leader:

  • Work on your soft skills: Specifically, on your employee recognition skills. You can participate in the Orange Program to learn ways to become a recognition expert and get some concrete ideas that will make a difference for your team. Saying thank you in different ways is often overlooked, but oh-so-important for employee engagement and wellness.
  • Lead by example and display modern citizen behaviors: If you grab coffee with your team, also pay for the next person in line. If you notice an employee struggling to meet a deadline, offer to stay and help finish with him or her. These little acts of kindness will be noticed and contribute to your leadership.

Word of advice: There IS such a thing as too much kindness. Make sure you act with authenticity and use strategies to prevent others from taking advantage of you. The right balance is everything!

2. Lead with Integrity

The foundation to becoming a great leader is earning the trust of your team. Along with benevolence, integrity plays a key role in effective leadership. According to a survey by Robert Half Management Resources, 75% of workers cited integrity as one of the most essential leadership traits. This means being fair and honest, giving credit where it’s due, owning mistakes, having the tough but necessary conversations, and doing the right thing – despite how uncomfortable or unpopular it may be.

Putting integrity into practice:

  • Give and seek honest feedback: The authenticity with which you deliver and receive this feedback is a building block for integrity. When giving feedback, be sure you begin with a noble intent. Frame the conversation, share specific observations and their effects, show care and discuss alternatives (if applicable). Then, look inward and ask outwardly! Ask your employees, your manager and/or your network how they view you and inquire about how you can improve. Stay open and ask questions. This act of vulnerability and open-mindedness not only increases your self-awareness, but it also opens the door for others to follow.
  • Admit fault: It’s likely you hold a high standard of success for yourself in your new manager role. You got the job for a reason, after all! You may be intent on establishing your competency as a leader and gaining the respect of your team. In all these efforts remember…leaders are human too! And that means you’ll make mistakes. So shed your armor. Use any failures or errors as a chance to own up, model accountability and use it as a learning (and teaching) opportunity. When we can recover from mistakes, admit we were wrong or even laugh at ourselves, we show others they are safe to do the same. When people know it’s safe to “fail,” they are more likely to bring up new ideas and pave the way for innovation.

3. Know your People

Let’s say you lead the sales team at your firm. Your employees may have a lot in common – perhaps they all enjoy human interactions and the thrill of winning over a new client. It’s easy to assume that people on a same team need the same things – Afterall, they all wanted this job, right? Not exactly. Each of your employees will require you to understand them and adapt to your style to match theirs. We’re not saying that you should lose your own personality and flavor in the process, the idea is rather to make minor tweaks in your approach and communication to be understood.

How to be an effective leader…for everyone

  • Consider personality tests: At Altrum, we use the Predictive Index. There are plenty of options online like the 16-personalities Do some research to find out which one would be best suited to your team. Understanding your team members more deeply will give you extra tools to adapt, which leads us to…
  • Taylor your coaching style to different learning styles: Visual learner? Turn on your webcam and share screen if you explain something over Zoom. If the person learns by doing? Set up a test environment they can play in. Make sure you offer different ways for your people to learn – hosting a meeting with a PowerPoint deck as a support might work only for a fraction of your team.

Always remember that great managing is about empowering, not having power over others. It’s about constantly assessing and adapting to your environment so that the unique contributions, needs and styles of each employee can emerge. Your success as a manager will depend almost entirely on your ability to do this.

4. Celebrate the Wins and Recognize Contributions

Celebrating matters. Whether it’s the big or small accomplishments, you’ll find that adding recognition and celebration to your management practices will make a big difference on your team, and dare we say, on your entire organization. survey by Robert Half Management Resources from Harvard Business School found out through her research that “Small wins can give people an enormous boost emotionally and can really raise their level of intrinsic motivation for what they’re doing and lead to creativity.” Celebrating the small wins = an emotional boost + increase in motivation + increase in creativity. A 3-in-1 you can and should leverage!

How to be a good leader that promotes celebration and recognition:

  • Use a social recognition platform: Modern offices take many forms. With remote work, shared office spaces, hybrid formulas and the many exceptions we make to improve work-life balance for employees, a web-based tool is the way to go to encourage peer-to-peer recognition. A social recognition platform like Celebration allows your team to recognize each other, and comment and like recognitions given to others.
  • Use rewards to celebrate: You don’t need to buy a bottle of champagne for every deal that closes. Rewards can be cheap and still very impactful! At Altrum, we do it through Celebration. Managers have the power to allocate points for great work or outstanding results. Such points accumulate, and eventually the employee has enough to redeem a gift or gift card! This system allows for spontaneous recognition to happen, it gives managers flexibility and autonomy, and it’s appreciated by employees!
  • Communicate within your firm: This one is easy. When your team does something great, make it visible! Send an email to all, post it on the billboard in your lobby, write a post on Célébration, publish it in your internal newsletter…the options are endless! The point is to shed light on the people who make things happen for your firm. Disclaimer: Make sure the people being recognized enjoy public recognition. Some of your employees may prefer to keep the celebration low key.

5. Show Instead of Tell

When you and your team have a huge list of responsibilities and little time to get them all done, it’s tempting to take the quickest path to completion. Mary, call the client and tell them X, Y and Z. Phillip, do A; B and C won’t work. Boom, problems solved. But for how long? While there will certainly be times when it’s necessary to step in and give orders, you’ll empower your team to perform at a higher level going forward, take ownership AND be more engaged if you also take the time to teach.

A great leader is a great coach:

  • Evaluate: Is this the time to solve, advise or teach? In the book Co-Active Coaching, authors/coaching experts advise managers to take the time to answer these questions when an employee comes to you with an issue or challenge: What will best serve the employee – now and in the future? What is there to learn here? What is there to fix? The answers will dictate how you approach the situation. Consider the growth of the employee and/or team and how your response will affect their ability to perform. Trust your instincts yet be aware of your default tendencies.
  • Illuminate choices: coaching is about helping people recognize the choices they have in front of them. By doing this for those you lead, you’re not only shedding light on blind spots but also helping to develop critical thinking skills. Ask questions, offer new perspectives, suggest options, and empower the employee to choose the best course of action. They will be more likely to take ownership when they play a part in determining the course of action.
  • Turn the tables: Ask the employee to teach YOU! What have they done in the past – perhaps in a previous role – that may work for this situation? Unlock the knowledge and experience that already exists and leverage that to improve the current situation. By doing this, you’re helping those you lead to trust themselves and make more confident decisions.

Like the proverb says: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. This approach not only boosts the competency and engagement of your team, it enables you to grow new leaders.

What it takes to be a good leader

Brené Brown defines a leader in her book Dare to Lead as “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential.” Great leaders can strongly impact not only their team, but the entire organization. When an entire company is performing at their potential, imagine what’s possible.


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