When you become a leader, you take on a variety of roles. You’re the one that employees look up to during a crisis, the one that customers rely on for top notch products and services, and the one stakeholders invest in when they believe in your mission. And these leadership roles aren’t mutually exclusive—they’re all intertwined and dependent on one another, so leaders have to learn how to improve and balance their roles in order to lead successfully.
There are dozens of roles that leaders play, but let’s learn more about four of the most essential leadership roles—the communicator, visionary, learner, and mentor—and how to improve in them.
Leadership role #1: The communicator
Understandably, it’s imperative that leaders have exceptional communication skills, whether it’s when presenting, writing, or managing. A whopping 97 percent of employees believe communication impacts their task efficacy on a daily basis, and McKinsey found that improving communication within organizations could raise workers’ productivity by 20 to 25 percent.
Leaders have to express ideas and important information with a multitude of different audiences, including employees, customers, partners, and stakeholders. Plus, in addition to disseminating important information, leaders use communication skills to facilitate brainstorms, initiate difficult conversations, explain company-wide expectations, and ask questions.
Because there are so many people who depend on leaders, they have to know when and how to effectively communicate to each audience.
3 ways to improve as a communicator
1. Be direct and transparent. No one wants a vague leader who communicates in indecipherable code. Say what you mean, share your opinion even if it differs from the majority, and err on the side of over communicating with your employees. If your people feel like they’re being kept in the loop, they’ll be able to better problem solve and work cohesively as a team with a mission in mind.
2. Practice active listening. Leading doesn’t mean you have to control and dominate every conversation or meeting. You have to create a psychologically safe workplace where employees at every level of the organization are encouraged to speak up and share ideas. Get comfortable with silence, lead with empathy, and thank team members for their contributions.
3. Make sure your actions match your words. Being a great leader extends beyond just verbal communication—if your actions don’t match up with your words, the point is moot. Your people need to trust you, and if you say one thing and do another, you’ll lose all credibility.
Leadership role #2: The visionary
Another important leadership role is the visionary. Ultimately, leaders are influencers—they must look to the future, anticipate problems before they arise, and create a cohesive vision for their organization. They dream big, and they encourage their teams to do the same. Their imagination is what drives company culture.
To succeed in this leadership role, big-picture thinking, innovating, inventing, and the ability to create a compelling vision to inspire people are required. True visionary leaders give employees the freedom to innovate, experiment, and take risks when bringing the company vision to life.
Although this leadership style sometimes requires making the impossible possible, keeping your vision largely in line with your employee’s scope of work and making sure everyone is on the same page are important. Researcher and professor Nufer Yasin Ates says, “The positive impact of visionary leadership breaks down when middle managers aren’t aligned with top management’s strategic vision.” In order to tie your vision and your employees’ daily responsibilities together, make sure that your individual vision isn’t siloed from the rest of your organization.
3 ways to improve as a visionary
1. Include employees in your creative process. Visionary leaders should be inclusive and invite their employees to be a part of the overall vision decision-making processes. When recruiting, attract talent who are passionate and interested in contributing to the big picture, and you’ll reap the rewards of having multiple perspectives to draw ideas from.
2. Remain open-minded. Once you have a goal in mind, it’s important to remember there are multiple ways to get to the finish line. Keep the big picture in mind, but stay open-minded about how to get there. If you can be flexible about pivoting and develop out-of-the-box solutions when things go awry, you’ll be able to reach your goal faster.
3. Cultivate and practice resilience. With any project come setbacks and unforeseen obstacles. Leaders know that executing a vision won’t always be a smooth sailing journey—they should understand how to navigate and push past challenges and keep their employees on track and motivated no matter how tough things get.
Leadership role #3: The learner
Learning and leading are integrally connected. If you want your organization to thrive in today’s world, you have to be a continuous learner. Leadership experts Kenneth Mikkelsen and Harold Jarche write, “Reinvention and relevance in the 21st century…draw on our ability to adjust our way of thinking, learning, doing and being. Leaders must get comfortable with living in a state of continually becoming, a perpetual beta mode.”
The learner continually develops their knowledge, skills, and abilities in order to be at the top of their game and push their organization to achieve their goals. Never assume that you know best—make yourself a sponge and constantly strive to learn from every experience and every person around you. It’ll only benefit you in the long run—65 percent of professional learners say their learning has expanded their professional network, and 47 percent say their extra training has helped them advance within their company.
It’s important to extend the same learning opportunities to your employees as well by creating a safe space where it’s acceptable to take risks and make mistakes. The best workplaces have leaders who help upskill and reskill their employees over time and are honest about their own shortcomings.
3 ways to improve as a learner
1. Regularly ask for feedback. Being receptive to team feedback is just as important as giving feedback. Ask your employees what you can do better as a leader and what you can provide them with in order to succeed.
2. Attend professional development conferences and courses. Intentionally seek out opportunities to deepen your skills—learn how to use a different leadership style, how to handle discrimination at work, how to respond to employees in emergency situations, and more.
3. Stay up to date with industry news. Subscribe to industry newsletters and scroll through LinkedIn to read about what other leaders are writing about. You never know when inspiration will hit, so staying on top of current events and trends is an easy way to learn something new every day.
Leadership role #4: The mentor
This leadership style requires leaders to act as a coach. It’s your responsibility to provide your employees with the support and constructive criticism they need to succeed in their jobs. In the mentor role, leaders guide employees through hurdles, invest in career growth, and celebrate accomplishments and small wins.
Leadership mentoring is incredibly beneficial to everyone involved. Data shows that it increases both job satisfaction and retention rates for employees—91 percent of individuals who have a mentor report being satisfied with their job, and managers are less likely to leave their organizations when their development needs are met through training, mentoring, and coaching. Plus, 80 percent of employees who’ve been mentored say it positively impacts their work performance, productivity, communication skills, and overall well-being.
And for leaders? Mentoring helps build empathy, compassion, and open-mindedness–important soft skills for leaders seeking to build trust with employees.
3 ways to improve as a mentor
1. Own up to your mistakes. In order to break the ice between you and your team, share a story about a time you faced a similar challenge to theirs or a time when you failed. Being honest about your mistakes helps show vulnerability and paints you as an approachable, human leader.
2. Invest in on-site learning and training for your employees. Host lunch and learns or a virtual training where employees can learn valuable new skills to carry them through their future, like how to present confidently or how to achieve financial literacy. Investing directly in your employees will help them feel a stronger connection to you as a leader and will create a sense of loyalty.
3. Show interest in your employees’ personal lives. Mentors develop strong relationships with their people by caring about them as people past just their job titles. If you understand their interests, strengths and weaknesses, and how they interact with others, you’ll be better able to communicate with them.