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The role of a leader is to handle strategy, inspire the team, and manage resources. An effective leader should have aptitudes in all these areas, but when people talk about "leadership effectiveness," they typically refer to their ability to inspire the team. After all, people are much more nuanced and difficult to manage than any other resource in an organization–and they're also the foundation for growth.

Leaders are made, not born. While there are certain traits that we traditionally expect from our leaders–that they are charismatic, visionary, and diplomatic–these are features that are honed for most leaders as they rise into more challenging roles.

For those responsible for cultivating effective leadership–such as executive coaches, organizational development professionals, and those already in leadership roles mentoring others–it is a never-ending and continual demand to help leaders improve their performance and effectiveness, especially through changes in the marketplace. It's also critical to understand the ongoing shift in human capital trends to develop leaders who can create organizational success in the future.

While there are countless seminars and books dedicated to supporting leadership development, they all drive the same point: transformative leaders need to have heightened emotional intelligence to be effective at motivating others. This role is crucial to have effective teams, engaged employees, and a great organizational culture.

Emotional intelligence is about self-awareness of one's own emotions, sensitivity to how those emotions are expressed, and social awareness of how to act with others. Why is this important for leaders? If you're responsible for inspiring employees, you need to provide a shared purpose, as well as focus on individual motivations, desires, and pain points, to provide a psychologically safe environment where diverse, high-performing teams can thrive. Read the five steps below to develop effectiveness and emotional intelligence for leaders.

How to Improve Leadership Effectiveness

#1: Persuade leadership to buy in to their own development

Skepticism can be a powerful trait of successful leaders, but sometimes it can be detrimental to progress.

Leadership development, coaching, and focusing on interpersonal relations are "soft" compared to some of the more concrete analyses that executives must handle day-to-day. Some leaders may wish to ignore soft skill building and career development in favor of other tasks.

We've heard stories from coaches working with executives where the results from the executives' personality assessments are completely perplexing and bizarre. Later, the coaches found that the respondents filled out the assessment randomly just to get through it quickly or asked an assistant to take the questionnaire. In these instances, the executives clearly weren't "bought in" to the value of coaching.

If you are struggling to motivate a leader to see the value in their own professional career development, here are a few suggestions:

  • Coordinate a 360-degree feedback survey with anonymous surveys to gauge employee engagement.
    • Frequently, any negative feedback is tied to interpersonal relations–how team members don't feel respected by their superiors.
    • Remind those you're coaching about their responsibility for employee morale and the positive impact of strong morale on productivity through authentic leadership.
    • Measuring employee engagement before starting any leadership development initiative will also give you a benchmark for the future.
  • Share statistics about the correlation between professional development and success.
    • "Companies with strong leadership and talent management practices increase their revenue 2.2 times faster and their profits 1.5 times faster than companies with weak practices, according to a survey of global companies." (source)
    • "Named among the 20 Best Companies for Leadership in a recent Group survey, both GE and Zappos put a premium on selecting, developing, and retaining strong leaders at every level. In the survey, more than 64% of respondents from the top 20 say people in their companies are expected to lead even when they are not in a formal position of authority. At other companies, that figure hovers around 35%." (source)
    • "According to the American Society for Training and Development, 41% of employees at companies with inadequate training programs plan to leave within a year versus 12% of employees at companies who provide excellent training and professional development programs." (source)
  • Share examples of visionary and transformative leaders who've invested in coaching.
    • Eric Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Google, said, "My best advice to new CEOs is to have a coach." Schmidt also said, "Once I realized I could trust him [the coach] and that he could help me with perspective, I decided this was a great idea...." (source)
    • Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE and supporter of executive coaching, said, "You've got to look in the mirror every morning and be totally self-effacing. Give yourself a critical review." (source)
    • Steve Bennett, the former CEO of Intuit, said, “At the end of the day, people who are high achievers – who want to continue to learn and grow and be effective – need coaching.” (source)

#2: Regularly set aside time for emotional intelligence coaching

Leaders are pulled in a million different directions with the tasks of managing a team. Setting aside time to talk about feelings, perceptions, and interactions is hard. There are always urgent projects to oversee and deadlines to meet. However, if you let the tasks in an organization take precedence over the ongoing relationships between leaders and their teams, it is a recipe for low employee morale.

It's important to set aside time outside of performance reviews to reflect on opportunities to build a leader's self-awareness and sensitivity to their team. For example, during a recent project, what were the successes and stresses? What caused the stress, and how did they persevere? How would they interact with team members differently to avoid that stress next time?

Spending time reflecting will never be an urgent issue–it's a process that needs resources allocated over time to see results. 

#3: Use a personality assessment to help leaders identify their personal blind spots and nurture their strengths

Coaching should go beyond what's immediately observed. Personality testing measures facets of a person's behaviors, motivators, strengths, challenges, perceptions, and stressors.

There are no wrong answers when it comes to personality–the executives you're working with should feel validated in the unique attributes that they bring to their organization which is reflected in the results of their personality assessment.

Executives have achieved their level of responsibility due to their leadership styles, talent, and hard work, so they should feel confident that their strengths have gotten them to where they are today. However, through their success and position in leadership, they may be blind to their unproductive behaviors and how they may act out under stress. By reviewing the results of their assessment and through coaching, leaders can be more self-aware and learn to better self-regulate during times of stress.

By being aware of their actions and sensing stressors, leaders will interact better with their teams to inspire performance and improve communication.

#4: Help leaders connect and listen better to whom they lead

For a leader to be effective, they need to be respected, communicate well with their team, and maintain an accurate view of what's happening in the organization. If employees don't feel confident they can approach leadership to share ideas or point out issues, the disconnect can lead to failure in both projects and morale.

To facilitate better communication with others, executives need to be aware of their own personality traits (as the coaching, feedback, and personality assessment can identify) and also learn to perceive others more acutely and adapt to their needs.

Executives oversee all kinds of employees, and different employees prefer different modes of communication.

Here are some tips for creating two-way communication within your organization:

  • When searching for a creative solution, allow all employees to pitch their creative ideas. Make sure that all employees have a way that they can contribute meaningful ideas without feeling judged. Ensure their voice feels heard by creating a psychologically safe environment.
  • When seeking employee feedback, gather it via both individual surveys and group feedback sessions. Some people respond best in social settings; others will contribute better if they're given time alone to think.
  • If executives speak to their company, encourage them to be themselves–people respond well to authenticity and approachability. Don't try to act infallible.
  • Go one step further with the personality assessment results and conduct a team-building session. Help the executive you're coaching understand their closest peers and team members better.

#5: Ensure that the entire leadership is committing time to reflecting on the greater vision for the company – and communicating it clearly

Employees don't want to feel like they're treading water and stagnating–people want to feel accomplishment in their work and understand the impact that their efforts have on the bigger picture.

A true leader helps employees feel fulfilled and passionate about their work so that they'll be productive. By having a clear, attainable plan for the company's future, leadership sets the foundation for all growth that the company achieves. The next step is to use those leadership skills to communicate regularly with team members about their role in achieving those goals.

Too frequently, executives strategize for the future and analyze progress in their own leadership bubble without transparency and honest feedback to others. Here are some questions to ask leaders about how they are sharing their vision:

  • What are the key goals for the company? Could these goals be further clarified? Elaborate beyond profit/revenue growth.
  • Are there 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year growth plans in place? Are there clear benchmarks for measuring the success of those efforts?
  • How are the goals, plans, and benchmarks being communicated to teams? Is there room to improve how it's communicated?
  • Does the team have a clear sense of purpose about how it contributes to the customers, stakeholders, and company mission?
  • When circumstances change and goals need to be adjusted, is that reflected clearly to team members? How frequently do you meet with team members to discuss progress?
  • How are you encouraging and incentivizing employees to feel passionate about meeting company goals?

For more, check out our blog providing tips to develop leadership success in the future workplace.

Effective leadership leads by example. They inspire those working at the organization by improving themselves, promoting transparency within the company, and providing clarity about its goals and future.

The first step we discussed—that leadership is invested in development through coaching—is critical. Leaders who want to improve their effectiveness should approach coaching with the mentality that it's a process of elite conditioning to perform at the next level.

The Birkman Method helps develop your leaders to take performance to the next level.

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