Improve Your Leadership Skills PART 1

Norb Slowikowski

June 2005

Everybody agrees that leading people is extremely important in the workplace. Since many people are not self-starters, we have to find ways to move people in a positive direction to achieve desired results. The best approach is to lead by example.

A successful leader always projects a winning attitude. No matter what your title is, you must approach your job with an engaging outlook that projects success to those around you. When things go wrong, you need to be solutions-oriented. By responding positively to negative situations, you will enhance your credibility as an action-oriented manager who is willing to get involved when problems occur. Instead of yelling at people and blaming them for mistakes, work with them to identify the problem and resolve it.

Successful leaders understand that there are seven key values that affect worker productivity: (1) respect/dignity, (2) job with meaning, (3) bigger picture focus, (4) involvement in decision-making, (5) fairness, (6) a place to grow, and (7) return on investment.

Be aware of your leadership style. To be an effective leader, you should do the following:

Collaborate. Work with your people to discuss solutions and obstacles.

Be accessible. When somebody really needs your input on something, be there for them without griping or complaining.

Provide positive reinforcement when people produce quality work or do more than what’s expected. Be supportive rather than critical. Most importantly, be specific. Know exactly why you’re giving positive feedback or else it will ring hollow. Make sure that it is due to progress or success on a job-related activity. Remember that in order to give positive feedback ,you must be aware of what is happening on the job site. This way, you can give positive reinforcement in a timely manner, when it will mean the most.

Don’t forget to give feedback based on small gains or contributions as well as large ones. Since people operate at varying degrees of effectiveness, don’t ignore those that are small improvements—they’re still improvements. When people realize that you care about their efforts, they will continue to produce.

Be an active listener. You can’t use ideas until you actively listen to what people suggest. When people come to you with a problem, make sure you get them to specifically identify the problem and its underlying causes. Then ask them if they have a possible solution. If their solution makes sense, have them implement it. This shows that you’re really listening.

Avoid blaming or criticizing others when a mistake occurs. Remember to attack the problem, not the person. When a person makes a mistake, ask them if they realize what they’ve done. If they do know, ask them to explain what went wrong. Avoid pointing out the mistake first. Next, ask them how they would fix it. If they respond with the correct measures, all you have to do is agree and suggest they use that solution the next time. If they don’t realize they’ve made a mistake or don’t know how to fix it, you must provide your expertise in a positive, supportive manner. Do some coaching.

Adopt an action-orientation. Encourage your people to take action and develop a sense of urgency about the work they do. In tandem with this, tell them to be innovative by trying new or better ways of operating on a day-to-day basis. When something works, make sure they tell you about it so that you can share it with the rest of the organization. It’s a "Ready–Fire–Aim” strategy that lets people experiment and learn from their mistakes. Aim those ideas that work. Share them with others in the organization.

In the end, to be an effective leader, you have to make it happen yourself. People will follow your lead if you go about your job with a winning attitude and create a positive work climate.

Next month we’ll talk about what it takes to have a "Leadership Mind Set.”

About the Author
Norb Slowikowski is president of Slowikowski & Associates, Inc., Darien, Ill.