Five Small Steps to Become a Better Leader

Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2019 list is out. It’s a powerful snapshot of our times and makes for fascinating reading. The list includes a specific category for leaders – and with people from Jane Goodall to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Pope Francis highlighted, it’s great to see increasing diversity in this list of leaders. Unsurprisingly, Jacinda Ardern makes an appearance on the list this year. She impressed the world with her genuine display of empathy and respect in the wake of the dreadful tragedy that took place in Christchurch last month.

Ok, so maybe you won’t make it onto the Time’s 100 Most Influential people list any time soon. But you can read the list, be inspired and know that becoming a better leader can be as simple as taking small steps in the right direction on a daily basis.

Last month, Next magazine published my list of five things you can do to improve your leadership that won’t take longer than five minutes of your time. Here they are:

  1. When you walk in the office in the morning, look people in the eye, smile and say hello.

Connect purposefully. This seems so simple, but how often have you encountered a manager who strides through the workplace without acknowledging anyone, head down in task mode? As the boss, YOU set the tone. One receptionist I know said that when her CEO smiled, said hello and called her by her name as she walked the main reception in the mornings, it made her feel more connected to the company and to her role.

  1. Put down your phone, tune in, and listen deeply to your team member for five minutes.

Here is the hard part; do this without giving in to the urge to fix anything, interrupt, and tell them what to do. Instead, practice active listening and use open questions to understand their perspective. Coach them. If in doubt, just shut up and listen. Too many leaders overuse the talking and fixing muscle and underuse the listening and asking open questions muscle.

  1. Write a handwritten note to one of your team members thanking them or valuing them specifically for something you noticed they did well in the last week or month.

Be specific. It doesn’t have to be gushy, but it’s likely to make them do more of whatever it is that you are commenting on. Shine a light on what you want to see grow.

  1. Read an article on a relevant topic that is significant for you at the moment.

A client of mine had to lead his team through a big outsourcing change programme recently. He decided to read one article a week on outsourcing. It helped him immensely.  Twitter, Linkedin, HBR, (and The Leader’s Digest) all have search functions and the articles can usually be digested in less than five minutes.

  1. Do one thing that will take you closer to YOUR personal goal – vs reacting to the demands of others or what’s in your inbox.

Make a phone call, send an email, go for a walk outside in nature to get some oxygen into your brain – take one small step that will move you proactively towards those important (but not necessarily urgent) goals.

Whether you aspire to be the next Jacinda Ardern or Pope Francis, or just a better boss of the team you lead, taking on these tips will help you become a more empathetic, informed, and effective leader.


Photo Credit: Appointment of the new Ministry

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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