Follow the Leader: How to be an Effective Leader in the Workplace

Since the pandemic, employees want more out of their work life. That starts with leaders who listen and empathize with their needs – those who inspire and empower them.

It may seem like the most effective leaders are just born that way. Here’s the good news: leaders are made, not born.

In this article, we’ll explore what makes for a good leader in the workplace. We’ll also cover why you want to reassess your leadership skills in these changing times.

Leadership vs. Management: What’s the Difference? 

Simply put — not all managers can be leaders. While there are key differences, management and leadership are part of the same spectrum. 

First, a manager is someone in a power position tasked with a team that must perform specific job duties. By the end of the day, a manager must check off whether Employee X completed Duty A, B, and C.

Whereas someone in a leadership role does more than check those boxes. To be a leader requires an extra je ne sais quoi. That can mean they’re charismatic, possess empathetic listening skills, bring the team together, and is both inspirational and motivating.     

Top 3 Things Employees Expect from Leaders

1. Listens & Keeps an Open-Door Policy

As a leader, you’re invested in more than just ticking off boxes—you’re there to listen to what the employees need and offer guidance. How often do you meet with your team members? Do you have a clear open-door policy where they can approach you with a problem without fear of retaliation? 

Your employees want to be heard. And they’re hoping you can help untangle any problem they bring to you. But if you aren’t easily accessible or show them that you’re genuinely listening and empathetic, that can negatively impact their productivity and morale.

2. Acknowledges & Celebrates Individual Success

No employee wants to feel like a cog in the machine, where their successes are swept under the rug. Or, worse yet, where a senior-level teammate takes the credit for their efforts. 

As a leader, your employees look up to you. Likewise, they want to know that you not only see the great work they’re producing but that you also acknowledge and celebrate it. 

Here are a few ways you can show them you value their efforts:

  • Circulate a company-wide memo or email acknowledging your teammate’s success.
  • Create an Employee Spotlight section on the webpage. A bonus is that you’ll also show prospective employees that your company values its employees and rallies around a job well done.
  • Roll out the rewards! A few ideas include a gift certificate to a local restaurant, a gym membership, a massage, or a catered lunch for the team.

Not sure what they might like? 

An effective leader will ask their team. Seek your team members’ input with an anonymous survey, etc.

3. Advocates for Professional Development & Growth

You want to invest in your employees’ continuous learning and development. At a minimum, this shows them you’re invested in their professional growth. Besides, they’ll continue developing their skills to bring innovative solutions to any problems that may arise. 

As a leader, you’ll want to create the learning-centric environment they need to thrive. Here are some ways to show you’re invested:

  • Provide regular and tactical feedback. Then make sure the employee knows you’re open for discussion.
  • Implement peer-to-peer or professional mentoring and coaching.
  • Allocate a professional development budget for each employee for seminars, workshops, courses on Udemy, and more.
  • Consider a fun, hands-on alternative to hone their problem-solving and collaboration skills. Corporate Survivor is a way to push the limits of their mental, emotional, and physical prowess while fortifying their teamwork skills.

Consider the long-view reason why you want to make this investment—you’ll inspire a leadership mindset in them, too. A true leader will empower other employees to be proactive in their role and challenge themselves to do better, dig deeper, and rise as leaders, too.


3 Must-Have Traits of an Effective Leader 

1. Demonstrates Self-Awareness & Empathy

The last thing your employees want is a leader who points out their mistakes while failing to acknowledge their own shortcomings. If you want to know how to be a good leader at work, here’s the secret — be human. 

Show your team that you are also a work-in-progress. It will make you more relatable, even approachable. They’ll see you can empathize with what they’re feeling. 

According to research from the Center for Creative Leadership, a leader’s ability to show empathy is in direct correlation to positive job performance and satisfaction. That’s a win-win situation for everyone and the company’s bottom line.

2. Trusts Without Micromanaging

Your employees each bring a unique set of skills to the table. But do you trust them to perform the job duties they were hired to do? Or, do you find yourself hovering over them? Or, worse, micromanaging them?

An effective leader will trust each member of their team. One way to show your team members you trust them is by delegating important responsibilities or challenging tasks that aren’t otherwise part of their daily duties. They’ll get the message that you trust them with a task you feel they’re capable of.

3. Promotes Teamwork & Out-of-the-Box Solutions

An effective leader in the workplace will rally everyone together and build community. They won’t leave their team on their own with fingers crossed that they eventually learn to collaborate and communicate effectively. 

Teamwork takes concerted effort. As a leader, it’s up to you to create those opportunities for your team to work together. Here are a few out-of-the-box solutions that can help you build a stronger work community:

  • Promote healthy competition: One way to build teamwork and collaboration is by creating opportunities for your team to work together and also compete with one another. With that combination, you’ll also see budding leaders rise among the ranks. A competitive activity like Catapult to Success inspires brainstorming and collaborative teamwork. In this case, your teams work together to construct operable catapults and later compete by seeing who can launch items the furthest distance, and so on.
  • Eradicate communication barriers: An effective leader needs to identify any communication inhibitor that may interfere with the team’s collaboration and productivity. 

Bridging the Divide is a collaborative activity that will allow the team to identify and overcome communication issues. It requires that your group divides into teams to build a bridge strong and safe enough to allow a remote-control vehicle to get from the beginning to the end. 

Because of its focus on project management, the teams will quickly realize the benefits of effective communication (or the consequences of poor communication). That forces them to work together to fix those issues.

Take the Next Step

An effective leader best influences their team by showing empathy and prioritizing employee engagement and collaboration. That means working on your leadership qualities and meeting your team where they are. 

TeamBonding’s team-building activities can aid in those efforts. By strengthening employee bonds and improving their overall workplace experience, you’ll find that you’re a leader your team wants to follow, not has to follow.

You’ll continue to evolve as a leader. But that takes proactive effort. Our podcast, Team Building Saves the World, offers insights and best practices in building a stronger team from the top leaders in the team-building industry. Because, in the end, a leader is only as strong as the team they lead.

Vipsania Pimentel

Team Contributor


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