Five ways to be a better leader

Do you think about how you could be a more effective leader? Here are 5 pointers for how to empower those around you:

  1. Have a vision broad and deep enough to inspire others and allow them to take parts of it and make it their own.
  2. Help the group develop a strategy—a plan for getting from here to there, with milestones and goals along the way.
  3. Use Command mode sparely. Most of the time, lead by example and persuasion. But when command is called for, step forward and then step back into a more democratic mode once the need has passed.
  4. Step back. Don’t hog the centre or the spotlight, but always look for ways to share.
  5. Put the needs of the group first. Think about how each of your actions will affect the group.

All of this is, of course, the ideal. We can strive for it, but most of us will fall short in one way or another. An empowering leader makes mistakes. If you don’t, you’re probably not experimenting enough. An empowering leader is also a good learner and an experienced and willing apologiser – someone who can make amends and move on.

Keep power circulating

Power tends to concentrate, and even the most benevolent and empowering leader may unconsciously begin to hoard power over time. When power becomes permanent and static, the group often stagnates.

Teams need strategies for sharing power and developing leadership in all group members. To keep power circulating and flowing freely in the group, adopt a few key elements in your structure:

  1. Limit the accumulation of power

Make agreements that limit how much responsibility any one person can take on, how many committees they can join, for example, or how many aspects of a project they can coordinate. Break big tasks into smaller roles and share them.

  1. Share roles and responsibilities

Co-facilitate meetings, so that a powerful role is shared. When roles are shared, we can reinforce one another’s strengths and compensate for our weaknesses.

  1. Rotate roles and responsibilities

Many roles benefit by being rotated—for example, chairing a meeting. Some roles put people in centre stage, and people who take on those roles get more attention—both positive and negative. Rotating them can spread both the praise and the blame around more fairly.

Other roles are more in the nature of chores that must be done—taking notes at meetings and distributing them, for example. When they are shared, no one person is stuck with an unpopular task.

  1. Train and apprentice

Some roles require training and preparation: facilitating big meetings or keeping accurate books. For the long-term growth of the group, you can create ways that people can learn, apprentice, and be mentored in those skills. And when skills are needed by the group as a whole – for example, communication skills, consensus process skills – the group should devote resources to provide overall training for all its members. It will be well repaid over the long term by improvements in function and by avoiding hours of fruitless arguments!

  1. Pass power on: let go gracefully

Because roles of power are fluid in collaborative groups, part of a leader’s job is to sense when and how to pass the power on. Power circulates, so that when you let go, others will then take on the tasks and responsibilities, freeing you up to find new areas of interest and new challenges.

What kind of leader are you? If you adopt the framework above of how to keep power circulating in your team, group members are empowered and leadership skills developed:

Thanks to Starhawk, Yes Magazine, April 18th 2012

Sign up to newsletter