When it comes to discussing art, many people say, “I’m not an expert but I know what I like when I see it.” The same concept is often true when it comes to leadership abilities, as well. We can recognize when a leader is either being especially effective or ineffective, but we can’t always say why. And, without being able to deconstruct the “why,” it can be challenging to develop yourself as a leader.

Effective leaders possess a spectrum of skill sets, and this article reviews five core abilities of quality leaders. This includes the ability to:

  • Negotiate fairly and well
  • Be assertive
  • Be accountable
  • Communicate clearly
  • Deal with negative attitudes

Here are more specifics about each.

Negotiate Fairly and Well

Negotiations occur when two or more parties attempt to resolve differing needs and interests through a series of communications. They negotiate because they each have something that the other one needs and believe that, through the process of negotiation, they can obtain a better outcome than by simply accepting the initial offer. The process can take finesse, as you attempt to resolve a situation through discussions, rather than by either ending the relationship, allowing one person to dominate the relationship, or turning the dispute over to another party to resolve.

Important negotiation terminology to understand includes:

  • Target point: what you’d like the other party to agree to, such as a certain starting wage
  • Bargaining range: the difference between the two target points, such as between employer and employee:
    • Positive bargaining range: if, for example, the employer’s resistance point is above the employee’s in wage negotiations
    • Negative bargaining range: when the employer’s resistance point is below the employee’s in wage negotiations, which means one or both must change resistance points for satisfactory resolution to occur
  • Resistance point: the point at which a party to negotiations would walk away, rather than continuing to negotiate
  • Opening offer: the first person to state a dollar amount creates the starting point of negotiations
  • BATNA (best alternative to negotiation agreements): if a party has the BATNA, then he or she will approach negotiations with more confidence, having an alternate plan in case all is not satisfactorily resolved

Helpful negotiation tips include the following:

  • Educate yourself on workplace rights before negotiations occur as well as company policies on important issues, such as if you or your spouse become pregnant.
  • Don’t focus solely on salary when negotiating at a workplace. Also discuss benefits, workplace perks and whatever else is important to you; for example, health care coverage, life insurance, retirement programs, vacation time and flextime. What are competitors offering? Where does your offer fall on the spectrum?
  • If you really want to work at a specific practice, but the pay rate isn’t what you want, you could accept the job with the contingency that you’ll receive a salary review in six months.
  • How can your schedule be made more flexible? Would you, for example, be permitted to come in 30 minutes later each day to take your children to school and then schedule your lunch break when you need to pick them up?
  • Who should make the first offer? Although some experts believe that making the opening offer tips your hand, research shows that final figures tend to be closer to the original number than the other party hoped would happen.
  • Avoid providing a salary range, because you’re tipping your hand more than what’s necessary. Also avoid saying “I think we’re close” because that indicates to a savvy negotiator that you’re suffering from deal fatigue.

Be Assertive

An article published by Forbes and written by a behavioral statistician offers the following statistics:

  • Leaders who rank in the 75th percentile in good judgment and lower on assertiveness have a 4.2 percent chance of being highly rated as an effective leader
  • If the reverse is true – high on assertiveness and lower on good judgment – then there is a 12.5 percent chance that he or she is perceived as an effective leader
  • When someone is ranked highly on both attributes, though, the leader has a 71 percent chance of being considered among the best leaders

So, assertiveness has its place in leadership, but it should be tempered with good judgment. The article lists ways that you can be an assertive leader without crossing over into aggressiveness. They include connecting and communicating with people in all levels of the organization, especially about change, providing honest feedback in a helpful way, modeling the changes you want to see, and collaborating, among others.

Effective leaders, according to Are You an Assertive Leader?, coach their teams and are engaged with the process. They inspire those they manage, have and give direction, and are supportive team players. Contrast this type of leader with domineering ones with body language and tone that’s perceived to be angry. These leaders often dictate what needs done and are typically seen as forceful and demanding. Employees may have a hard time getting a word in edgewise with these leaders and they don’t welcome feedback. On the other side of the spectrum are passive leaders, perceived to be quiet, aloof and resentful, as well as disengaged and distant. They focus on avoiding confrontation and will often complete tasks on their own rather than engaging with others. Make it a goal to find that sweet spot in the middle and stay there!

Effective leaders are also coaches – and the letters in the word “coach” can provide guidance on how to act:

  • C: clarify goals and communicate to all team members
  • O: obtain commitment from your team
  • A: analyze and appraise team performance and individual employee performance, as well as progress towards goals
  • C: challenge the status quo, creating an environment that is comfortable with change
  • H: help your team to succeed

Be Accountable

Having a culture of accountability is crucial for a successful practice because members of the team can count on one another, and their sense of ownership in the practice helps it to succeed. To create such a culture, clearly outline responsibilities for each member of the team via a comprehensive job description and then provide appropriate training. Once each person understands his or her jobs, help your employees to create SMART goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

Monitor progress with regularly scheduled employee reviews, and provide praise along with feedback on areas where improvement is needed. If a big project is in progress, you could hold weekly team meetings for updates and to celebrate accomplishments. Also, be accountable yourself. You must transparently share your own goals as well as the overall goal for the practice. Help employees to see how their goals fit into the overall practice goal and be willing to share when you’ve fallen short, using that as a learning experience.

Additional tips include:

  • After assigning tasks, let employees take on full responsibility. Provide specifics about each person’s role, along with deadlines, then allow your team to complete tasks. This shows your confidence in them.
  • Don’t micromanage or insist that a team member accomplish a task exactly how you would. If the task is completed on time and satisfactorily, that’s what matters. Over-scrutinizing details can be counterproductive, leading your team to feel incompetent.
  • Don’t check in too frequently. That can waste time and removes the responsibility of being accountable from your team.

So, hire the right staff and train them well. Give them ownership of their tasks and the room to accomplish their goals. Empower them to do well by giving them the opportunities to excel and leave the micromanaging to someone else.

Communicate Clearly

There are five major aspects of communication, according to Charlie Powell in How to Recover after a Communication Breakdown, which means there are five places in which a breakdown can occur. First, there is the sender: the person or organization delivering a message. There, a breakdown can take place if the message is not appropriately shared and/or not sent to relevant parties.

Next, there is coding, which is the language of the communication. Were the right details shared in a clear manner? The third element is the channel. If there is a communication breakdown, review how many mediums were used and whether or not they were the right choices. Email? Fax? Telephone? How many reminders were sent – and was that number too small? Too large?

The next step in the process is decoding, which is how the receivers understood the message provided. If there is a problem here – and you’ve decided that the first three elements were handled correctly – determine what is causing the decoding block. Are the receivers of the message busy and distracted? Disinterested in the message content?

Finally, there is feedback. Did you receive any? If not, what seems to be the problem? Did a critical event occur that disrupted the normal flow of business? Or, again, is disinterest the root of the problem? A lack of trust in the sender?

Throughout this process, how much of a role are outside forces playing?

Deal with Negative Attitudes

In our article, Negative Attitudes: How to Identify and Deal with Negativity in the Practice, we list the following negative attitudes:

  • Gossiping that causes conflict and/or ill will among staff
  • Complaining, and never being pleased with decisions or comments made
  • Criticizing, and exaggerating mistakes made by others
  • Disrespectful comments and/or passive aggressive behaviors when given a task
  • Arguing rather than compromising or finding ways to settle disagreements
  • Goofing off, not helping when coworkers need assistance
  • Any other comments or actions that affect the morale of people who works at the practice – and/or that damage client relationships and/or hurt the practice overall

As a leader, if you notice these behaviors in your practice, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What’s the impact of the employee’s behavior?
  • How do the person’s actions differ from the standards set for overall employee behavior?
  • What’s the effect of this individual’s behavior on the people who work with him/her?
  • If this person acted according to our accepted standards, could it make a difference in morale and productivity?

If the negative action is unusual behavior for a staff member, perhaps he or she is dealing with challenging personal problems and is therefore feeling overwhelmed. In that case, a heartfelt talk and an offer of help can be the answer. But, what if there is an ongoing pattern of negativity?

You can have employees sign a policy document that bans negative behaviors, such as gossiping. Then, if it occurs, you can meet with that person to discuss the policy. Ask the employee for suggestions on resolving the situation, meeting in private to avoid embarrassment. Be straightforward in your approach and, whenever possible, incorporate quality recommendations given. If this doesn’t help, then you may ultimately need to tell the employee that, if he or she isn’t happy at the practice, it makes sense to go elsewhere – for the good of the practice and the employee’s peace of mind.

There are, however, in between steps, including giving a verbal warning to the negative employee, with that warning noted in the employee’s file; a second written warning; and then termination with the third offense.

High Performance Team Culture

Finally, as we’ve noted in High Performance Team Culture Leadership Effectiveness in Engaging your Employees, you should always focus on creating a positive work environment, accomplished by:

  • fostering clarity
  • earning trust
  • sharing information
  • practicing stewardship
  • energizing and inspiring employees
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