Written by Phillipa Brown
When you think of who your leaders are in your community, who comes to mind? Is it your local or federal politician, a religious leader, an executive or CEO of the company you work for, or do you think about a parent, friend or neighbour? There is no wrong answer here. All of these people are members of your community who are all important factors contributing to the betterment of others. What is a community leader? A community leader is someone who is able to take responsibility for the well-being of their communities for reasons such as; improving and contributing to the community, serving others and bringing people together. A leader is usually someone who is self-appointed and enjoys leading people toward a common goal. There are many reasons why someone might become a community leader because they want to make a difference, inspire and empower others, or grow personally or professionally. Leaders are important because they solve problems and create opportunities.
In order to understand leadership, you first need to consider what it means to be a leader. To be a successful leader, it was historically believed to be the exercise of power and force or the possession of extraordinary analytical skill. Attempts to analyse leadership over time have often failed because studies have focussed primarily on power, popularity, showmanship or wisdom as beneficiary qualities of leadership. Some leaders have these things, but they are not the essence of leadership. Let's take a closer look at what it takes to be a good leader and how to effectively lead a team. Listed below are ten possible ways to show good leadership:
1. Connect with people
Leading a group of people requires building rapport. In order to achieve this, one must learn to connect with others by listening, understanding and connecting. Building a real person connection with your team members and focusing on their personal attributes such as personalities, interests, strengths and weaknesses will better serve your knowledge as to how and where they will best add value. By developing a shared trust will help to build a strong culture of accountability and exceptional performance.
2. Listen to people and make them feel safe to speak up
Part of connecting with your community and team members is active listening. Listening is one of the most important aspects of ‘effective communication.’ Listening to people’s thoughts and input will help to grow their confidence if they know their opinions are valued. The role of the leader in a group environment is to facilitate group cohesiveness and ensure that people feel safe to speak up.
3. Motivate and Inspire People
Leaders are often inspired by their own motivations, which is what compels them to create a new project in the first place. At the time of starting a new project, motivation and enthusiasm is often high. However, it can be difficult to continue the same level of enthusiasm for a sustained period of time. Leaders recognise this, and find ways to connect their vision with others to help achieve and deliver the goals through their own individual needs and motivations. This helps team members to keep the momentum moving towards the target.
4. Make decisions
Successful leaders understand how to balance emotion with reason in order to make decisions that positively impact themselves, and their team members. Leaders often have to make challenging decisions involving change, uncertainty, anxiety, stress and sometimes the unfavourable reactions of others. However, great leaders know how to move quickly and proceed with the available information and often take responsibility for decisions whatever the outcome may be.
5. Set Goals and Expectations
Setting clear goals and expectations for the team members is key to delivering a successful vision. Set long and short-term goals as well as, SMART goals to achieve and measure outcomes. SMART goals entail; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound goals to clarify your ideas, focus your efforts, use your time and resources productively, and increase your chances of achieving your targets. A clear explanation of goal and expectations will also be necessary so that everyone has a clear understanding of the vision and how each member fits into the equation. Ensuring that each team members goals are periodically revisited will help to keep everyone accountable if frequent adjustments are made where necessary.
6. Keep a positive attitude.
Successful leaders create a positive and inspiring workplace culture. The way a leader handles a negative situation will say a lot about their leadership. Robert Mann, author of ‘The Measure of a Leader’ (iUniverse, 2013), recommended focusing on the good in any set of circumstances. "Look at three positive things about a problem before you identify what makes it dissatisfying. The more you look at the positives in a problem, the more positively people react with one another." Creating a positive attitude, even when faced with what may seem like a road block, can help to facilitate problem-solving amongst the group. A good leader knows that there is no problem that can’t be solved, it’s just another obstacle that requires a new way of getting over or around.
7. Teach people instead of giving orders
Leading is about coaching people, not giving orders. If a leader is controlling people to do certain things in a particular way, the same level of engagement will not be seen as if you allowed people to take ownership over the direction of their own tasks. Teach people how to do things by breaking down larger tasks into smaller ones and coaching team members to work toward a collaborative and committed work environment. Successful leaders never stop teaching.
8. Giving and Receiving feedback.
Providing feedback as well as being able to receive it encourages open communication and further develops rapport. If you’re not direct, people will be left guessing and the leader could be missing vital information on how they are performing. In addition, providing constructive feedback can highlight team members accomplishments and help others to learn how to enhance their own effectiveness on tasks. A good leader continuously develops skills through feedback and celebrates the wins.
9. Be open to new ideas
A leader who is open to new ideas will offer and be open to alternative ways of thinking. Good leaders often have a high emotional intelligence to understand and accept differences of other people’s opinions and perspectives, and is able to incorporate all of these to inspire new ideas. When you’re open to hearing other people’s ideas you create opportunity through every possibility and potential.
10. Lead by example
While hoping that team members will perform their tasks, and perform them well is one thing, but how you perform your own tasks as a leader will create a benchmark of what level of performance could be achieved. Successful leaders will practice what they preach and are mindful that leading by example can teach people how to perform effectively. When you lead by example, you essentially create a picture of what’s possible and give people the confidence to follow.
If you’re looking to become a leader in your community, there are plenty of ways to do so. You could volunteer at your local animal shelter. Animal shelters are usually non-for-profit organisations that rely solely on charity and volunteer workers to look after and re-home pets. Another way to get involved might entail volunteer work at a local community organisation making a difference for people experiencing homelessness, disadvantage and social inclusion. Several national organisations supporting this cause include; the Salvation Army, Wesley Mission and the Smith Family. Most of these organisations operate 365 days of the year and require the assistance of dedicated volunteers to provide much-needed support for their programs. They rely on the support of individuals, organisation and community groups to sustain the work they do each day. Voluntary work is a rewarding activity where you can connect with like-minded people, develop your skills and help to improve the quality of life for all involved. You might even want to start your own charity for something that you believe in. Whatever it might be, try using some of the skills set out here to help you become a proactive and more effective leader within your community. There’s always room for more leaders.