What Makes An Effective Team Leader?

Leadership is an intangible skill, and that makes it hard to describe. What makes an effective team leader can’t be captured in a short definition. The needs and goals of leadership vary across time, industry, and department.
But in any case, there is a family of core characteristics that influential team leaders tend to demonstrate. Some of the most important ones include the following:

  • Strong communication skills
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Leading by example
  • Embracing failure
  • Creating trust and building morale

Leaders who have these qualities can stimulate higher employee engagement and facilitate communication throughout the company. This creates better outcomes overall, as workers work harder and smarter.

Strong communication skills

Leadership is all about communicating. Importantly, it is about two-way communication. An autocratic leader may enjoy giving orders but may not be able to take criticism or feedback of any kind. Two-way communication means listening and receiving information, giving orders, and making announcements.

Organizations that rely exclusively on one-way communication face several problems. Their leaders tend not to understand what their employees are doing. This leads to poor decision-making, lackluster implementation, and a culture of distrust.

Strong leaders establish trust with their team by listening to them and making good use of the information they supply. This creates a feedback loop in which employees see their voices being heard, and thereby become more open to sharing information.

Emotional intelligence

Intelligence comes in many forms- it is not just about cognitive or academic ability. Emotional intelligence, the ability to be aware of and handle one’s own emotions and others, is key to effective leadership. A team leader may manage the most brilliant people in the world, but they are still human beings who face stress, conflict, and misunderstanding.

The unpredictability of modern software development means that writing code can be as emotionally challenging as it is cognitively challenging. Organizations need to be able to handle unexpected setbacks, tight deadlines, and demanding clients. Successfully leading a team in this industry requires being on top of the team's emotional and psychological health as they progress. 

Psychological research suggests
that emotional intelligence may be the single most significant factor in career outcomes and is especially important in leadership positions. It could account for up to 90% of what sets high performers apart from peers with the same technical skills.

Leaders who lack emotional intelligence can unwittingly contribute to a hostile workplace environment. This, in time, can make employees resent their work and become less engaged.

Leading by example

One of the worst things a team leader can do is not practice what they preach. People pay attention, and they can sense hypocrisy, even if they don’t complain about it.

Leading by example means following the rules and norms you set out, and owning up to them if you don’t always succeed. No one is perfect, but a great way to build respect is to acknowledge your own flaws.

Teams who trust and respect their leader will begin to follow their example. This means creating outcomes without giving direct orders.

Embracing failure

Failure as a normal part of life and of business. Not every project succeeds, and most do see some setbacks first. Since there is no way to avoid failure altogether, influential team leaders need to be able to embrace it when it happens.

Embracing failure is healthy for the morale of your team. This often means looking at past mistakes to see how you can change or avoid them in the future. A growth mindset like this goes a long way in motivating people to keep working.

Effective leaders can maintain an outlook that is both optimistic and realistic. They take responsibility for their decisions and can pivot to new plans when things go wrong.

Creating trust and building morale

At the end of the day, a team leader alone can’t do even a fraction of what their team does. A leader’s ability to create good outcomes depends on their ability to motivate their team members to do good work.

It’s easy for workers to fall into a pit of apathy, and to put in no more than the bare minimum needed to keep their jobs. This is made more likely if their leader has poor communication skills, doesn’t treat them fairly, doesn’t follow their own rules, and doesn’t make light out of failure. In such cases, organizations get sucked into a paralyzing negative feedback loop.

But an effective leader can make all the difference, and it all comes down to creating trust and building morale. Workers who trust their leader will be more likely to follow their lead. And teams with strong morale work with more gusto.

Employee engagement is a chronic problem around the world, but it doesn’t have to be that way. According to a Gallup poll, employee engagement in the US is actually high at a measly 34%. But there do exist highly engaged teams, and they show 21% more profitability than the average.

Importantly, 96% of employees reported that showing empathy is an important way to advance employee retention- emphasizing the value of emotional intelligence.

Leadership at JetRockets

JetRockets is a Teal organization, which means our employees make their own decisions about how to work, and contribute based on their own unique capabilities. Leadership is dispersed throughout the company, rather than being concentrated in a few hands at the top.

We believe that this system makes a strong foundation for effective leadership. Our employees work and lead because they want to, and because they believe that their abilities give them the competency to do so.

And our leadership policy improves the bottom line for our clients, too. Each project receives a dedicated Project Manager who works with the client and the development team. The Project Manager engages in two-way communication to ensure that your goals are aligned with ours.
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