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Wondering what makes a good leader in the workplace? Start with empathy and expand from there 

Shalini Gupta

March 01, 2024

Leadership trends in business are always evolving as specific approaches or styles fall out of favor — how to calibrate what works is defined by the team you are leading and how best to rally team members to get the best outcomes for your goals. Having led a team through extreme growth during the pandemic, I’ve witnessed a few key leadership trends that have transformed my leadership style over the last several years and are permeating the definition of being a good leader across the industry. 

Leading with empathy is certainly one of them. Every single member of your team has a story that will inevitably impact their mental, emotional, and physical health and their performance. And though the pandemic may be in the rearview mirror, an empathetic leadership style ensures that you’re always addressing the needs of your team while balancing the initiatives that can help you reach business objectives. It’s all about putting yourself in the shoes of others, recognizing their limitations, and being patient when things don’t go as planned. 

Then, there’s the simple fact that you’re not a leader if no one is following you. Landing in a leadership seat doesn’t necessarily make you a leader. Who are your champions on the team? How are you moving initiatives across the organization when you are not around? What makes a good leader in the workplace? One of the challenges of leadership is building your second-tier team to support you in leading the organization. Leadership is rarely, if ever, a solitary undertaking. 

Harnessing Your Inner Leadership Skills

Leading with empathy is always a good starting point, and if you can support your empathetic leadership with communication skills that bring people together around a given goal or initiative, consider yourself halfway there. But your job is far from over. Other elements must be in place to achieve your personal and organizational goals. The following are just a few strategies to continue improving your effectiveness as a leader: 

  1. Define your North Star

Finding your “North Star” is more than some reference point to keep business moving in the right direction — though that, too, is important. When you take the time to define the most important objectives for you as a leader, it ensures that all your plans ladder up to a clear and concise long-term vision for your organization. That vision might involve sales growth, talent development, or culture improvements. The ultimate goal here is to have a tangible objective with detailed initiatives to deliver on it, then align your time, talent, and resources on only those initiatives that will help you reach your collaborative vision.    

  1. Prioritize time management

One of the challenges of leadership is delegation and knowing where to focus your time to create the most value. Some activities that don't add value will land on your desk, and you can simply let them fall. Most of us try to tackle every ask, but to be an effective leader, you must constantly calibrate to focus on what matters most for you and your team. One of my mentors once told me that only 20% of what ends up on your desk must be dealt with by you, your team should own 50% of the work, and the other 30% may need no action at all. 

  1. Prioritize Direct 1:1 Communication

Effective communication has never fallen out of fashion. Still, these hybrid work arrangements can lead to team members forgetting that there is a person on the other end of that email who has different opinions, perspectives, and feelings. As a leader, I have always considered it my responsibility to model effective practices to align teams. It starts by ensuring clear communication across team members to get buy-in before large team settings. You can rarely, if ever, distinguish tone via digital channels, so setting the stage on how to bring people together in a 1:1 or larger group setting takes a great deal of finesse. You need to use all your tools as a leader to bring people together to have constructive conversations about how to solve an issue, manage change, and orchestrate new initiatives successfully because there is no substitute for in-person direct contact. 

  1. Build the best team

Your business will only get to where it needs to be with the right talent on your team. As people, we all have strengths and weaknesses — acknowledging what support you need to succeed is exceptionally important. The team you surround yourself with should amplify your skills and support your weaknesses. You must align your support team's values and work or leadership styles with yours to create a high-performing team with a systematic culture across the organization. Your team will also need to be composed of individuals who are experts in your craft area to manage the work and have the soft skills needed to build cultural alignment and fit within your organization. Generally, hard skills can be taught, but soft skills are much harder to develop once someone is part of your organization. As you think about recruiting, credentials aren’t the be-all and end-all for your talent needs. Ensure you are spending the time understanding individual values and working styles to find the right fit.  

Leadership trends evolve over time, but one thing is certain: Leaders must inspire their teams, adapt to current business conditions, and work continually to deliver value to the business's goals. Having been afforded the opportunity to stand up one of our largest account teams, I will say that what I’ve learned over the last four years has tested my abilities and shifted my own definition of leadership.

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