Why knowing your team determines your effectiveness as a leader

If knowing yourself as a leader is the foundation of your personal effectiveness, it is equally true that knowing those you lead is a key determinant of the impact you can have as a leader. Focussing on the work to be done or the desired results is only part of the equation. It is just as important to engage, inspire and empower those you lead for them to succeed. The process requires a high level of awareness and needs both your head and your heart involved along the way.

Take a minute and think about a leader in your life who inspired you to be your best. Someone who encouraged and supported you to know and lead from your strengths, and consistently do your very best. Perhaps it was a community leader who took an interest in your development or a manager who cared about your personal and professional growth. What did they do that made such a powerful impact on you?

I will always remember a leader whose work made me a better leader. He was certainly one of the most effective leaders I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, and I learned a lot from him. But what did he do that had such a pivotal impact on me?  

In a nutshell, he cared. He also took the time to build a safe, trusting relationship that gave me the safe space I needed to grow and thrive. 

What stands out to this day is the time and effort he took to get to know me personally. Sometimes it was making time for a quiet chat about my work or my professional growth. At other times it was going out of his way to do something unexpected to encourage my efforts. 

He could also be counted on to provide clear, actionable feedback, whether I’d aced something or failed spectacularly; I learned a lot either way. 

Was he a leader I’d work for again? Without hesitation. 

Truly effective leaders invest time in building relationships at a more personal level. They’re genuinely interested in getting to know their employees and what’s important to them. Sure, they want to know what each person brings to the team, including their strengths, limitations, professional aspirations and areas for growth and development. But they also want to know what team members care about and how their personal lives may affect their ability to succeed. 

What can you do to build the relationships that matter?

If you’re keen to build (or deepen) the relationships that underpin truly effective leadership, here are five concrete ways to focus your time and energy for the best results:

1. Get to know your people 

Go beyond the basics to get to know your team at a personal level. As best you can, do it individually, not just with the team itself. Here are just a few of the key things you’ll want to explore: 

  • Who are they personally and professionally?
  • What do they care about, and what are the values that shape them?
  • What are they good at; what gets in their way?
  • What enables them to make their greatest contribution? 

2. Find out what they need to thrive 

Work with your team to find out what they need to thrive. Most importantly, what do they want and need from you as their leader? And what will success look like for them and your working relationship? 

3. Be open about who you are and what you expect

Allow your team to get to know you and what you stand for. When you do, you’ll be helping to build a foundation of trust. This is also the time to set expectations. Be clear about what you expect from the team and what your team can expect from you. Then follow through to make it happen. 

4. Be present

When you spend time with your employees, make sure to give them your full, undivided attention. Whether it’s a brief hallway chat or a substantial conversation, take the time – and the interest – to make it count, beginning with how you show up and listen. 

5. Check in regularly 

Building awareness and relationships takes time. Make it a habit to invest in the process on an ongoing basis and watch your relationships—and your effectiveness—flourish. 

While there are many dimensions to effective leadership, your ability to engage, inspire and empower the success of those you lead is essential to the work. The process starts with knowing who you’re leading, and it’s a job that requires your head and your heart. 

In fact, when researchers examine the practices of the most effective leaders, those who demonstrate a keen interest in the development of others, and invest in building authentic relationships with their employees, stand out. What might it look like for you?

‘Leadership is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow,’

James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner from The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership.

Did you miss the first article in this series on the link between awareness and leadership effectiveness? Truly effective leaders know who they are, do you?

Michelle Lane

Michelle Lane is a leadership development coach, consultant, and facilitator with 40 years of diverse leadership experience in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Michelle can be reached at mlane@vibrantleaders.ca.

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