Top five tips for new (and emerging) leaders
Leadership can be challenging, whether you’re a born leader or a wallflower. But leadership is a skill, which means you can learn and improve. Many leaders learn by observing other leaders and cherry-picking what they think works and what doesn’t. Here are our top five tips for becoming a better leader:
- 1 Understand your role
- 2 Know your team
- 3 Set clear goals
- 4 Keep it professional
- 5 Commit to improvement
Understand your role
It may sound simple, but it’s critical to understand your role clearly. What’s expected of you? Who and what are you responsible for? What are your deliverables and KPIs, and what are your key tasks?
Bethany Magill, Administration and Logistics Assistant at Magill Transport in Parkes, NSW, understands that in a tightly regulated industry like transport, this clarity is vital:
“People can join the industry, learn the dos and don’ts and go ahead with their job. But they don’t always learn the context of their job, how it fits into the business.
“There’s initiative in any role, but you have to show understanding of what you do and the way you do it.”
Bringing your ideas to any role is essential – but unless you’re grounded in a solid understanding of your role, you risk spending effort in areas that aren’t relevant. In the worst case, you can be distracted from your core responsibilities.
Know your team
You don’t need to be best mates with your team members, but you need to know them. What are their capabilities, and what support do they need? Is the team working well together? How can you facilitate improvement?
Kelly McLuckie, NTI’s Customer Culture and Transformation Manager, says that listening is the key to getting to know your team: “it’s about asking the right questions and taking time to listen to your staff and communicate.”
Bethany stresses the importance of taking that knowledge and working alongside your team members, for example, when a team member is having a problem:
“It’s much more constructive when the manager identifies with the person. Then you can relate it to the business goals and approach the problem together.
“It makes it more of a team effort. And then all of the team members can work towards a common goal or a common set of values.”
The best way to get a team to work well together is to ensure there’s mutual respect. Leading by example – being personable and professional – is the key.
Set clear goals
Be clear on what you expect from your team, and don’t be deterred. Leaders gain respect when their team has a clear direction. Without it, you can end up with competing ideas and agendas, often with little understanding of where they fit into the business.
Bethany thinks it’s critical to career success. “Set goals for yourself for the short, medium and long term. Relate them back to the goals for your department or your business,” she says.
Once you’ve set goals, keep yourself and your team accountable for them. “We set goals to solve problems or manage things better,” she says. If you’re running your team – or yourself – without any goals, “no-one’s going to improve in that situation … or very few people will,” Bethany says.
Keep it professional
Your team doesn’t need you to be their friend; they need you to be their boss. It’s essential to be friendly and professional, but you must set clear boundaries.
Kelly notes that it can be tricky to get “that balance of wanting the drivers to like you versus needing them to respect you,” but it’s critical to doing your job well, which is ultimately to the drivers’ benefit too.
As a young woman slowly growing into a leadership role within the family business, many of Bethany’s peers have decades of experience. She is very careful to find a happy medium between being teammates and having their respect.
“I’m very, very intentional about the way I interact with the drivers. I want them to know I’m not above them, but at the same time, I want them to respect me as I grow within the business.”
The strategy has worked well for Bethany, and she’s learned that she has to meet her team’s expectations too. The result is respect and a well-functioning team: “Always back yourself.”
Commit to improvement
Be clear on where you sit within the organisation – who you can turn to for advice, what training is available, who you can support.
Training is essential, as is gaining any relevant qualifications or certifications, whether a degree in accounting or a first-aid certificate.
“Part of your responsibility as a manager is to consistently self-assess,” Bethany says. She also appreciates that her team members are a great source of learning.
“There’s so much knowledge in drivers and logistics and operations that can be passed down. They can add a lot of depth and credibility to your knowledge.”
Kelly agrees, noting that, “mucking in gets huge respect from people … respecting other people’s experience and respecting their skills is critical to becoming a good leader.”
Become a leader
Leadership isn’t necessarily difficult, but it does take some thought. One thing is sure, though – respect is essential. As a leader, you must respect your drivers and other team members. Respect their experience and their expertise. Respect yourself and your own expertise. And respect the fact that you should always be learning more about yourself, your team, the company you work for and the industry you work in.
It’s a great industry, and it needs great leaders. With care, effort and determination, you can become one of them.
Kelly McLuckie, NTI
Bethany Magill, Magill Transport
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This article has been developed as part of NTI’s The Business of Safety series with the aim of helping transport and logistics businesses become safer and more sustainable. The Business of Safety is funded by the NHVR’s Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative, supported by the Australian Government.
- Information in this document is a guide only. It does not take into account your personal or business circumstances. Whilst all due care has been taken, you must not rely on the information as an alternative to legal, legislated regulatory and compliance requirements associated with your business activities.