What Makes a Good Workplace Leader

By Andrew Martins,
business.com writer
| Updated
Sep 02, 2020
Image Credit: monkeybusinessimages / Getty Images

A strong leader in the workplace can bolster a small business's push for success.

As a small business owner, you inherently find yourself at the top of the company's hierarchy. You may make the decisions, pay the bills, and run the company in accordance with your business plan for success, but does that make you an effective leader of your team? To better understand what makes a strong leader in the workplace, we examined what qualities a good leader has and what steps you can take to ensure your leadership does more than serve as a title.

What are some qualities that make a good leader?

To properly instill a positive working environment for your employees and boost overall productivity as a result, you need to have certain leadership skills. Leadership is more than a title. According to the business leaders and experts we surveyed, to be an exemplary leader, you should do the following.

Have a clear vision for the company.

If you've ever been on a team without a successful leader, you know how fast things can devolve into a rudderless mess. A good leader knows where they want the company to go and strives to find ways to get there. Whether that's your team's need to finish a project by the end of the week or a push to ensure the company's quarterly revenue sees an increase, conveying that there's a beginning, middle, and end to the goals you and your team have to reach can inspire better results toward a common goal.

Clifton Carmody, founder and principal at MNDFL LDR, said people want to work for a purpose other than only making money.

"Profit is the proverbial bottom line of a business, but making sure (and communicating that) it is made with respect to the people that work for you and [the] community you are part of is next-level leadership," Carmody told business.com.

By never losing sight of your company's goals and by clearly communicating them to your team, you become a more effective leader.

Be willing to listen to others.

We all want to feel like we know what's best and that our plan of action is the right one. Though it's important to have a vision and to stick to it, it's equally as imperative to be willing to seek out and listen to your team's feedback and concerns. Good leaders understand that humility is an important leadership quality.

Through some self-awareness and compassion, a strong leader can "maximize human potential, first in one's self and then in others," said Kevin Crawford, a self-employed executive adviser. Good leaders, he suggested, can recognize flaws in a plan and understand that someone else in the company may have a better solution.

"Managers control; leaders influence," he said. "Leaders need well-developed competencies in compassion and empathy."

Strong leaders have a firm grasp on reality and aren't easily swayed by criticism or clattery. This acceptance allows them to bring a greater sense of objectivity to their work.

When strong leaders seek out advice and listen, they use it to act with integrity. By striving to do the right thing for the company and their team, good leaders put their egos aside for the greater good, said Howard M. Shore, founder and CEO of Activate Group Inc. Good leaders must "do the right thing always," he said, if they expect their team to act with integrity as well.

"Too many people choose their own interests without hesitation and then act surprised by the suggestion that anyone else would consider another choice," Shore said. "I tell my team members not to do anything they would be embarrassed to read about on the front page of a newspaper or on social media."

Trust your team, and earn their trust. In a business setting, it's important to remember that everyone on your team is an adult. Too often, business leaders micromanage every aspect of their business, usually through some form of mistrust they've perceived with the people working under them. Hovering too closely can be a detriment to morale and reflect poorly on you and your business.

If you are feeling uneasy with the work being done or you are constantly checking up on your employees out of fear, people tend to notice. It's important to remember that you trusted your employees enough to hire them in the first place, so have confidence that they will do their jobs and that there are policies in place to deal with any mishaps.

"To me, the mark of a strong leader is knowing when to take a step back and put trust in the people I've hired to do their work," said Vetri Vellore, CEO of Ally.io. "Throughout my time as CEO, I've had to travel from Seattle to the company office in Chennai, India, meaning I cannot always check in on what my employees are doing. I've learned to trust that they will get their work done and achieve goals they have set for themselves."

Just as it's important to trust your employees, it's also imperative to earn their trust. A good leader strives to gain that trust and loyalty by supporting team members, helping them with day-to-day issues, and attempting to learn more about each team member, according to Matt Scott, owner of Termite Survey.

"The first and most important aspect of building trust is getting involved in the everyday work problems of co-workers or employees," he said. "Pay careful attention to those behind everyone else, and allow them some room to justify their mission. The second move is to go out of the workplace and learn their lives. Still, don't overdo it – nobody wants managers invasive."

Work to instruct and empower your employees. As a leader within your business, you should always seek new ways of helping your employees to be the best they can be. Instead of thinking of yourself as a commander, it may help to see yourself as a public servant or teacher at times. Your job as a leader is to use effective communication and to keep a positive attitude to support your team.

Because you were chosen to be a leader – or you created the business in the first place – you are likely in the best position to make your team run better. By engendering a workplace that values communication between you and your team, you should already have a good idea of individual employees' strengths and weaknesses. Make decisions with that information in mind to put people in the best position for success. Good leaders empower their followers to tap into their own expertise and skills, and they know "how to maximize their ability," said Stuart Derman, director of digital marketing at Epic Marketing and founder of the Wasatch Mountain Film Festival. "A good leader puts themselves out of the job by training their followers on how to deliver good results, self-evaluate, and repeatedly learn and develop. You can be a strong leader by teaching your team members how to overcome their weaknesses and develop more strengths."

Be willing to delegate.

Your position as a leader in your company does not mean you have to tackle leadership on your own. Good leaders know when to delegate work and give their team more responsibility, said Nate Masterson, CEO of Maple Holistics.

"A poor leader is one who has too much on their plate," he said. "Trusting your team to get the job done and knowing which team member is best for each job is an essential quality of a good leader. The ability to delegate not only shows that you trust your team, but it instills better decision making and facilitates teamwork, both of which enhance team productivity."

By getting your employees involved and giving them more responsibility, you accomplish two goals: You lighten your load, making it easier for you to be an efficient leader, and you give your employees a stronger feeling of purpose, which boosts their confidence and involvement in the company.

Why is strong leadership important?

Good business leadership can be hard to envision. Many people's ideas of how to be a good business leader stem from their personal experience with previous bosses, or pop-culture depictions of bosses and business owners. After all, it's easy to picture that laid-back manager you had as a teen or the comically obnoxious boss in that office comedy everyone remembers. In both cases, a better approach to leadership would have gone a long way in ensuring that the business ran smoothly.

At their very core, true leaders set the tone for the entire workplace simply through their actions and their interactions with the people around them, Carmody said. With a good leader at the helm, results take hold from the top down.

"People look to leaders to take their cues on how to work, how to play, and how to experience the organization," Carmody told business.com. "Work culture is a product of the leader's character more than anything. The leader does more to set cultural tone and tone of employee engagement than anything else. As the leader goes, so goes the organization."

Through firm, yet fair policies and actions, a strong leader can directly affect productivity and help the team reach previously set organizational goals. In turn, a good leader is responsible for keeping morale high while steering the overall direction of the business, as a poor work environment can take a business off the rails.

To better understand how important it is for a business leader to remain a positive force in the workplace, it helps to look at how the human mind works, said Halelly Azulay, CEO of TalentGrow and creator and host of The TalentGrow Show podcast. Today's workers don't necessarily realize that the brain perceives threats from a wide range of behaviors, she said.

For example, ignoring someone or rolling your eyes at someone in a meeting will trigger a threat response in that person's brain. This, in turn, may lead them to change their behavior as they become more emotional, defensive, and narrow-minded and less rational, creative, and solution-focused, according to Azulay.

By striving to boost morale while constantly righting the ship, a good business leader can avoid negative situations that a bad leader would only exacerbate.

I am a former newspaper editor who has transitioned to strictly cover the business world for business.com and Business News Daily. I am a four-time New Jersey Press Award winner and prior to joining my current team, I was the editor of six weekly newspapers that covered multiple counties in the state.
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