How to be a leader at work (with tips and examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A large part of a company's success depends on the leaders within its organisation. This isn't just within higher management roles, but at every level. No matter what role you're in, there are ways you can exercise leadership skills to succeed and help a business reach its goals. In this article, we cover what leadership means, and tips for how to be a leader at work with examples for each scenario.

What does it mean to be a leader in the workplace?

Leadership can come in many forms and doesn't just apply to a set role. There are times when an employee needs to take leadership in similar ways to a manager or supervisor. Consider how leadership is relative to your role and the ways you can exercise it. Displaying leadership skills is also a great way to make a good impression on your manager. It shows you're capable of taking on further responsibility and could lead you to a promotion down the line.

Related: Leadership models: what are they and how do they differ?

How to be a leader at work

Knowing how to be a leader at work isn't always intuitive, and leadership doesn't come naturally to everyone. Some people take guidance and learning to step into the role of a leader. Learning these skills and attributes can be very beneficial for your career development and serve you in everyday life. Consider the tips below and study the examples to help you assert more leadership in the workplace:

1. Be self-aware

All effective leaders have a good level of self-awareness. To be self-aware means you understand the impact your actions and words have on the people around you and that you understand how a wider audience perceives you. It's important to understand how the team you're leading feels your impact and their honest feelings on your performance. For this reason, many managers and businesses conduct anonymous feedback surveys to help make leaders aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Listening to and requesting feedback from your team is an important step to being self-aware.

Example: A supervisor sends out an email for all staff to complete an anonymous survey about recent management decisions and practices. From this survey, the manager receives comments that suggest the team feel they haven't received enough emotional support in the workplace after a difficult few months for the business as a whole. Using the results, the manager resolves to be more self-aware about their actions and how they provide support to their team.

Related: How to address and strengthen leadership weaknesses

2. Maintain a positive outlook

A huge part of good leadership is a positive attitude, even in the face of adversity. A team of employees look to a leader to set the standard and atmosphere of a workplace. A positive leader helps to keep up a good work atmosphere and motivate colleagues. They also can inspire boosted productivity and a relaxed environment for their employees. This all helps to create loyalty in their team.

Example: After a busy and difficult few days in a supermarket, the store manager takes the time to speak to every colleague and tell them what a good job they're doing and is more present to provide motivation and extra support on the shop floor during this busier period.

Related: The importance of leadership and culture in organisations

3. Exercise objectivity

A good leader always remains objective and avoids favouritism of colleagues at all costs. It's important not to let your emotions or personal feelings get in the way of being objective in a leadership role. This allows you to be fair and just in your decisions. Fair outcomes help to create a positive and respectful atmosphere and standard for your employees. Ensure to treat every member of staff as an equal, without letting your own beliefs or opinions affect your judgement.

Example: A manager has to resolve and mediate a dispute between two colleagues. One employee is new to the company while the other is someone who the manager has worked with for years and they have a good working relationship. The manager ensures that this doesn't affect the resolution process or outcome. They hear both parties out and act objectively to reach an understanding between the pair.

4. Set a good example

A leader sets an example for the team they're running. Employees who see their leader working hard follow their lead to work diligently. Those who witness their manager constantly slacking off or acting unprofessionally are likely to take this approach too. It's important that your team always sees you trying your best, as this gives them the motivation to do the same.

Example: A manager at a marketing company sets a good example for employees by showing up to work on time, completing all their work with enthusiasm and taking the initiative to seek out extra work during quieter periods. The employees follow this example and feel motivated by their manager.

5. Hear other people out

Quality leadership involves taking feedback and listening to the thoughts and feelings of others. Just because you're a leader doesn't mean you always have the right answer or the best ideas for the ways of doing things. Allow your employees to share their ideas for better practices in the workplace. Taking the time to hear people out not only makes the team feel valued but could build better practices for the business in the long run.

Example: A manager makes sure to include and seek opinions from the team on any major decisions made in the workplace. They hold regular team meetings to pool together ideas and get a better understanding of how the employees react to changes and updates to the workplace. The team appreciates the feeling like their opinions and thoughts are of value and therefore feels more motivated within their role.

6. Communicate well

A big part of leadership is communicating information. A good leader communicates with their team clearly and concisely. This includes updates about the team in general, employee reviews and feedback, plus conversations with individuals about their performance or behaviour. This communication extends to many formats, for example speaking over email, the telephone and face-to-face. Clear communication provides direction for employees and clarity on their areas of success and also things they could improve.

Example: A team leader carries out monthly feedback meetings individually with all members of their team. In this meeting, the team leader clarifies any present or upcoming changes within the team or workplace, discusses the employee's recent successes and offers areas for improvement. The team leader also allows feedback from the employee and asks if there's anything they would like to discuss.

7. Show understanding

Make sure you have an understanding approach within any leadership position. As a manager or supervisor, you're the person that employees come to about personal problems or things that are upsetting them in the workplace. In these instances, a leader is compassionate, a good listener and extends understanding to the employee's current situation. They then work with the employee to put plans in place to rectify the situation or help them feel happier. An effective leader is an approachable figure to their team, building trust and loyalty.

Example: An employee approaches their manager about a recent health diagnosis that means they're going to need some time off work. The manager is compassionate and understanding, granting the leave and stating that they're going to do all they can to make life at work easier for them in the months ahead.

8. Act decisively

Good leaders also act decisively and with confidence in high-pressure scenarios. As an authority figure, decisive decisions garner more respect from members of staff than leaders who appear unsure or non-committal in their decisions. It's important for managers to be reactive in situations that require urgent attention before they spiral. Decisive actions from a leader also inspire motivation within the staff, as it feels like a decision they can support and believe in, as their leader does.

Example: A customer service manager witnessing an interaction between a customer and one of their employees. The customer is very upset about something and is getting angrier and more aggressive towards the employee. The manager drops what they're doing and steps in to calm the customer down and prevent escalation of the situation. Through this decisive action, the authority of the manager can clarify the problem and seek a calm resolution for the customer.

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