If you’re in a leadership role, you know that you need to prepare for and quickly adapt to whatever situation arises. On a given day you might be expected to coach an employee, lead a team meeting, persuade your manager to adopt a strategy, and deal with whatever else might spring up without advance notice.
Being able to switch between roles gracefully is a leadership skill that often goes under the radar because it’s something we learn over the course of many years. You won’t fully understand how to fulfill each role until you’ve experienced it yourself, often from multiple angles.
But I think understanding what those roles actually look like, and what they require of leaders, is going to be valuable, especially for those aspiring leaders who are just entering their first leadership or management position.
In this article we’ll look at seven roles of an effective leader. Strap in!
7 roles of an effective leader
You’ve achieved a first place finish with your recent promotion to Development Lead. Congratulations, you’re a champion! Go ahead and skip to the next section...
Just kidding, you’re not a champion. Well, maybe you are, but the kind of champion I’m talking about here is a little different. I’m talking about someone who champions a cause. And for leaders that means championing their team, their culture, and their organizational values.
An effective leader understands that one of their most important roles is to serve as an advocate for those around them, whether those people are their direct reports or colleagues. This means supporting (and often fighting for) their ideas, career development, and their work in any way you can.
On an organizational level, a leader champions values and culture by embodying those values in their actions, and finding ways to encourage them in others.
An effective leader understands that, even though it’s often tempting to try, they can’t do everything themselves. There’s just not enough time in the day! Rather, your job is to delegate effectively—which means assigning work thoughtfully.
To succeed at delegating, you’ll need to broaden your awareness. You need to simultaneously be aware of your people’s workload; their skill sets, strengths, and weaknesses; and the priority-level of every task they’re working on. You also have to excel at explaining why those tasks matter, especially when priorities are constantly shifting. Contrary to popular belief, this takes a lot of practice.
An effective leader will be able to make delegation seem second-nature by sharing their thought process with their team, by explaining the context of each item they're delegating. When that happens, people begin to understand intuitively what they need to work on next, even before you ask them.
To be an effective leader, especially in a management role, you need to be able to read people, gauge whether their employee experience is positive, support them in their role, and be a sounding board every now and again. And for that to happen, you need to listen to what they have to say.
Earning the trust of your people takes time, of course. Empathy is going to play a big role. Are they having trouble with their workload? You’ll need to make them feel like they can be honest with you about that. Being a confidant means trying to understand their challenges from their point of view, and helping them solve things together. It takes patience, too.
An effective leader shouldn’t ever feel like an adversary. After all, your top priority is to support your team. If something’s on their mind, be there for them if they want you to be.
As a leader, you need to be able to quickly zoom in and out in scope: from the big picture organizational goals to the day-to-day tasks that need to get done in order to keep projects on track. Not only that, you need to understand how each piece of the organization informs and builds off of the other. Effective leaders need to excel at systems thinking.
True strategic thinkers are able to use their detailed knowledge of advanced systems, like their organization, and chart a new course that advances its goals. Plus, you need to enact that strategy across a team, which will undoubtedly take some convincing.
5. Team Player
An effective leader knows that they’re not above the fray. They know that leaders don’t dictate orders from on high. Effective leaders recognize that they’re an integral part of the team, too. And playing a supporting role means being able to collaborate well with others.
Leaders can accomplish this by sharing information freely, enabling cross-functional projects, and bridging gaps with their own skills and experience. A leader who volunteers their time, participates in the project, and helps with the workload is always going to earn the respect of their colleagues.
An effective leader should be as up to date as possible on the trends, research, innovations, technologies, and advancements in their field or area of expertise. In that respect, leaders should always be learning. You’re not only striving to be a great leader in your organization; ideally you’re trying to be a leader in your field.
Being an expert in your field doesn’t give you leeway to always be right, of course, but it definitely makes you a valuable resource for your team. If they have a question, you’re there.
And if you don’t know the answer off-hand, you’ll find out as soon as possible. A good leader is always in research mode as a means of supporting their team.
People want to learn from you, whether you’re a people manager, a leader in your field, or an expert on a particular topic. And giving back in the form of a mentorship is one of the best things you can do to help raise the next crop of leaders. After all, great leaders didn’t get to where they are without a whole lot of help along the way.
Mentoring doesn’t have to be a formal process, either. It can be as simple as a series of informal conversations to pass along knowledge and advice. Mentoring also isn’t a one-sided endeavor. For the mentor, it provides an opportunity to revisit past mistakes, distill learnings from them, and consider their experience from a different perspective.
The best leaders recognize that the path towards success is rife with errors, missteps, false starts, and complete blunders. Reevaluating those bumps in the road can be tremendously valuable for current and aspiring leaders alike. We’re all learning, right? Maybe we should all be teaching too.
Becoming an effective leader, and moving in between these different roles, rarely comes naturally. You might immediately excel at one role and fail miserably at another. But don’t fret. Fulfilling each of these roles will become easier as you gain experience. Onwards!
Looking for more tips on becoming an effective leader?