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9 Essential Leadership Skills That Build High-Performing Teams

There is no doubt that teamwork is essential to the success of any organization. No single individual can do all of the work on their own. That is why leaders must cultivate high-performing teams and lead them effectively.

Think of teams as the two essential components of a brick wall: the bricks and the mortar. Individual employees (the bricks) must have integrity and quality in and of themselves in order for the wall to be structurally sound. If you have weak bricks, you’ll have a weak wall. Leaders (the mortar) must also be strong and have the right mix of skills and abilities. The leadership provided is what holds the team together and allows each brick to do its job.

With this in mind, the leaders who develop these nine leadership skills are able to build the most effective teams.

1. Communication

Teams can’t perform to their fullest potential without strong communication, and it is up to leaders to model communication based on these three factors:

  • Style: The way you communicate must be appropriately matched to the person you’re interacting with to help put them at ease so that they will be receptive to what you have to say.
  • Facts: Some people are very responsive to facts and information. If you don’t provide the level of information they are seeking, they are less likely to engage because they feel that something is missing.
  • Passion: Some people will be persuaded more by convictions and passion than they are by facts, so it is important to know when you must communicate with enthusiasm.

The key is to find the right balance for each individual. Find the style that mirrors theirs, include enough facts to satisfy their desire for information, and be passionate enough to engage them.

2. Time Management

High-performing teams are able to successfully juggle multiple assignments, and leadership can provide the training and tools to help them manage their time effectively. In addition, however, leaders must also create an environment that enables their teams to use the training and tools effectively.

One of the most important skills leaders must master to make time management easier for their teams is the ability to delegate effectively. When assigning tasks to a team or an individual, it’s important to be clear about the expected deliverables and due dates and to provide opportunities for them to obtain clarification. This enables the team to accurately prioritize their workload, do the necessary planning, and execute the task efficiently.

Leaders can also help by being proactive. The ability to be responsive to shifting priorities is a great quality for teams to possess, but constantly changing course due to a lack of planning—or worse, the whims of a few people—is exhausting and makes it impossible to keep up. But if leaders anticipate organizational needs and prioritize effectively, their teams will be able to function proactively, and reactivity will be the exception rather than the norm. Along with delegating effectively, fostering a proactive approach will enable your team to consistently manage their work and deliver on their accountabilities.

3. Empowerment

Like that brick wall, a team is only as strong as its weakest member. In the context of the workplace, strength often translates to empowerment—each member of a high-performing team must feel empowered, and leaders are responsible for achieving this.

Leaders can choose to be autocratic—telling people what to do—or they can engage others and allow them to have more input and involvement in decisions. Involving others tends to be more effective than an autocratic approach because in an empowered workforce, hearts and minds are engaged.

Many employees want to contribute to the success of the organization, but if they’re not empowered to do so, the company misses out on their valuable skills, knowledge, and experience. If leadership doesn’t allow participation, the team’s skills are squandered and they become disempowered and disengaged. Empowerment is good for both the company and the individuals and teams that work in it.

4. Decision-Making

The decisions that leaders make have a ripple effect—they have the power to influence many aspects of the organization and impact how teams perform. The scale of the decision directly relates to the consequences it will have. Because decisions from leadership have such power, it’s important to ensure that they are the right decisions.

Strong leaders get input, especially when making significant decisions. The people who will be implementing the decision often have ideas about the best path forward, more experienced leaders can share lessons learned, peers in the organization might have had similar experiences, and external sources may provide a fresh perspective. All of this information allows leaders to make better decisions and gives them more confidence to enforce accountability.

5. Openness to New Ideas

Success breeds success, but leaders cannot have tunnel vision about the things that are currently working, especially if they want to unleash the true power of high-performing teams. They must stay open to new ideas to maintain a competitive edge and consider other alternatives to embrace.

Leaders don’t necessarily have to seek out innovation or new ways of doing things, but they do have to maintain a mindset that allows them to see opportunities when they arise. One way to cultivate this mindset is to be continually learning by trying new hobbies, gaining new skills, and seeking out new experiences that will train the mind to automatically absorb new ideas and incorporate them when appropriate. Being receptive to new ideas is a discipline that can be rewarding both personally and professionally.

6. Teachability and Accountability

Leaders who are building high-performing teams should look for individuals who have both teachability and accountability.

Teachability is not the same as good listening skills and the ability to pay attention. Being teachable means understanding feedback and new information and then applying it on the job. Leaders and employees who are teachable are valuable in any organization, which is why it’s so important to recognize them and help them grow.

Personal accountability is demonstrating that when you say you are going to do something, others can rely on you to do it. When an individual has the combination of teachability and accountability, they can be trusted to understand the tasks assigned to them and follow through on their commitments.


7. Passing on Strengths

Leaders at every level have a lot of responsibilities, and they must ensure that all of them are delivered as promised. This often requires working with high-performing teams to complete the work, and leaders need the individuals on those teams to be as effective as possible.

It is up to leaders to work with individuals to make them better. This can be done through training programs, but one of the simplest ways is for leaders to share what they know. Passing your strengths on to your team allows them to build their skills, allowing for increased responsibilities and personal growth. Do this by allowing them to observe. Inviting them to participate in meetings and sharing experiences with them will expose them to the possibilities as they build their skill sets.

In addition to encouraging observation, it’s also important for you to explain to your team why you do things the way you do them. This helps teams understand the thinking behind your actions and allows them to replicate them more effectively. The combination of observation and explanation allows individuals to build stronger skill sets, which ultimately leads to better performing teams.

8. Employee Productivity

Employee productivity is a common goal for leaders at all types of organizations, and it’s a big topic to address, especially when building high-performance teams. One of the most important elements is understanding how much freedom each individual can handle with the tasks that are assigned to them.

Some people need a lot of direction and coaching when taking on a particular task, while others just need a few key pieces of information before running with it. What any given employee needs depends on how much experience they have with the task at hand. If they don’t have enough knowledge and experience, too much freedom will lead to lower productivity because they will be trying to learn along the way. On the other hand, if they have a high level of experience and are not given enough freedom to do the work, they will become disengaged. When maximizing the potential of a team, leaders must allow the appropriate amount of freedom to match the experience and competency of the individuals in the team.

9. Candor and Empathy

Leaders have an obligation to the organization to ensure that individuals and teams are able to contribute to their fullest. Maximizing all of their talent, capability, insight, innovation, and ideas requires delivering useful feedback.

To do this, leaders must employ both candor and empathy. Candor builds trust, which is vital when engaging employees and motivating them to work to their potential. Leaders with empathy demonstrate that they actually care about and identify with the individuals on their teams.

These two competencies work hand in hand—being candid with employees requires empathy. Hearing a difficult truth becomes easier when it’s clear that the individual delivering it has your best interests at heart. Leaders who can cultivate these two skills will be effective at building high-performance teams.

Strong Teams Need Strong Leaders

The performance of a team depends on both the individuals on the team and the leaders behind them. Without strong leadership, even the most skilled employees will not function to their highest potential on a team. On the other hand, the leaders who develop and hone these nine skills will unlock the potential of their teams and contribute to the success of the organization.


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