Top Three Ways to Develop Leadership Skills for Building Efficient and Effective Teams

"You're here anyway - you may as well enjoy it!" - that was the phrase my father would use whenever I would complain about sitting on a soaking wet river bank on yet another one of our rain-drenched fishing trips. Of course as a kid, I didn't see the wisdom in those words - all I had thoughts for was a change of clothes and a warm fireside - but in the years I've since spent managing and advising businesses, it's a phrase that has often summarized my views on being a leader of a team: "You're here anyway - you might as well be good at it!"

It's always a shame to see a leadership position wasted, and it's usually because the individual concerned has lost perspective on what they're there to do. So here's my recommendations on the top three ways you can rejuvenate your role as a leader and build a team that is committed and effective:

1. Manage Yourself Effectively.
The primary reason I see leaders flounder is not because they lack the core skills necessary to be a good leader - it's because they're so overburdened with the managerial and administrative functions of their role that they simply don't have the time to lead effectively.

If you're consistently rushing from meeting to meeting, multi-tasking (read: answering e-mail) when you finally get to those meetings, and get a sense of dread when you enter your office because of the stacks of unattended paperwork, it becomes very hard to make time for one-on-one's with your team members, hold strategic planning sessions, or even find time to think.

So if you truly want to be an effective leader, you owe it to yourself - and your team - to manage yourself effectively. In practical terms, this means getting on top of four specific things:

  1. Time Management: You must master the ability to manage your time - hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and over the course of a whole year.
  2. Priority Management: It's possible to have great time management skills, but to be using them on the wrong things. A true leader has a heightened awareness of what their real priorities are, and stays focused on not just 'doing things right', but also 'doing the right things.'
  3. Crisis Management: If you're going to be an effective leader, you cannot afford to be easily derailed by crises and problems. A good leader absorbs crises, adapts appropriately, and gets the train back on the rails effectively and quickly.
  4. Delegation: Even the most effective leader will achieve less than optimum results if they try to do everything themselves.

There are many good programs out there to help you manage yourself more effectively. I can highly recommend David Allen's "Getting Things Done" program, and my own '3P' ('Personal Proactive Productivity') Program, but really, it matters most that you find a personal management system that works for you, and stick with it.

2. Commit to Developing Others
If you want to build a truly committed and effective team, you must invest in their development. Practically speaking, this means you must commit to spending time in 5 specific areas:

  1. Performance Assessment: There's no getting away from it - leadership begins with taking time to regularly, consistently and fairly give feedback on each team members performance.
  2. One-on-one's: Outside of the formal performance assessment process, an effective leader regularly provides each team member with a risk-free, judgment-free environment to have a one-on-one session, where your team member can air and discuss issues without fear of retribution.
  3. Coaching: Although you might not do the actual coaching yourself, to build a committed and effective team, you will want to ensure each team member is given access to whatever formal and informal coaching is necessary to develop their skills.
  4. Empowerment: One of the surest signs of good leadership is when team members have the authority and responsibility necessary to not only do their own jobs, but to use creativity and take ownership of problems and issues as they arise. The more you lead, the more you should be able to depend on your team to make good decisions.
  5. Hiring: High-quality hiring is an integral part of leadership: investing time on ensuring you make good hires makes their subsequent leadership so much easier!

3. Pull the Team Together
'Divide and Conquer' doesn't work as a leadership style - unless you want a dispirited, low-morale, ineffective, high-turnover team. There are four specific things you can do to help build your individual direct reports into an effective team:

  1. Conflict Management: Letting conflict fester is a sure way to prevent your team from working together effectively. True leaders don't avoid conflict, nor do they needlessly create it, or worse, avoid it. Instead, they manage conflict positively, always seeking the best for the organization as a whole.
  2. Difficult Conversations: Leading a team effectively means being prepared to conduct difficult conversations when required - how to be 'ruthlessly constructive' and tell bad news when necessary, without fear or favor.
  3. Communication: Who can lead without communicating? If you're either always behind a closed door, or 'never there', then your team will soon begin to lose its cohesion. Talk to your team - consistently and regularly.
  4. Accountability: Nothing builds an effective team quicker (or stronger) than a sense of accomplishment. As a leader you should not only set goals for your team, but also hold them (and yourself) accountable to those goals, report in on them regularly, make changes where and when necessary, and celebrate your successes.

Les McKeown is a writer, speaker, consultant and President & CEO of Predictable Success(R), an organizational development consulting firm based in Marblehead, MA. He is the author of Retaining Top Employees, The Complete Guide to Mentoring and Coaching, The Complete Guide to Orientation & Re-Orientation. For more on employee retention, visit Les' Retention Secrets website.