If you have an interest in people and business management, it will likely be quite early on in your career that you’re given the responsibility of supervising a small team. This is your first step on your way to becoming a leader in business. From there, you’re likely to gain a promotion into management and the various levels of management. Only exceptional managers learn to lead people effectively and understanding the difference between these different positions and what they mean is elementary in your pursuit of leadership excellence.

Understand the Difference

A supervisor is responsible for enforcing and ensuring that current processes and procedures are carried out and all work that the team is responsible for is completed successfully and within the timeframes required. They don’t generally create or change processes, but they might be involved in a consultative role if these need to be changed. Their primary focus is on the successful running of the department or team they supervise using parameters and operating procedures they have been given.

A manager has a more complex role, which usually involves a lot more decision-making and flexibility. Managers are responsible for setting standards and processes as well as having a hand in the recruitment of the staff in their department. They will usually manage supervisors or even other managers if they are in a senior management role. They often manage budgets and make spending decisions.

Leaders exist at all levels of management, and those who are exceptional at it are quickly noticed. These are the managers that work their way through the ranks and become influential in their business. Learning the skills of effective leadership requires dedication and we’ve collected some of the ones we think are a priority for new leaders. Don’t let your job title define your management style, however. True leaders have been pursuing leadership excellence in their everyday dealings with both those they manage and those that manage them since they landed their first supervisory role.

Listen to Everyone, But Choose a Decisive Direction

The first thing you need to make a priority to learn is the ability to listen effectively. The technique of effective listening is one that creates confidence in those that talk to you. By maintaining eye contact and acknowledging what you hear, even repeating it back, makes you a great listener and one that people will put faith in. Listening to everyone and engaging with those you manage on every level, understanding their roles and challenges means you have a great base on which to make decisions. It is these decisions that you are being paid for and are really what your role as a leader is. You need to make calculated decisions on things in your department or even directions whole departments or the company might take. Always take into account the advice, opinions, and thoughts of those you manage, but don’t let them dictate the decisions you make.

The People Paradox

Understanding people, how they work and what motivates them is a big part of being an effective leader. Sometimes you might get so frustrated with the people you manage that you want to just fire them, but it often means you haven’t identified what motivates them. The things that drive people forward and motivate them to perform excellently in their position changes from person to person. Some might be motivated by money while others might want reassurance or validation for their work. Understanding each person in your team that you lead and using this understanding as a motivator is a sign of an excellent leader.

Many models of motivation, like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation might lend some knowledge and understanding of this, so familiarise yourself with these theories.

Manage Both Up and Down

Effective leaders don’t only manage their team using an understanding of motivation and personality; effective leaders also apply this same way of dealing with people to those who manage them. If you are in tune with personality types and how to both talk to and manage them on a personal level, you will do well. Understanding that some people want a high level of detail to make them comfortable while others just want an instruction to get going means that you can relate to people and how they want to be managed.

Many managers bark orders at their staff but don’t take the time to engage with them on an interpersonal level, which some staff might appreciate, but others will feel unappreciated and bossed around. Using this way of managing your staff can be effective when you deal with your managers too because if you engage with them on their terms, you’re likely to have a more positive experience and your message will likely be heard. One can only hope they’re actively listening to you!

Learn to Share

Some employees believe that to keep themselves useful, they need to be indispensable. Managers see these people unfavourably because they aren’t sharing their knowledge and empowering those around them. Learning to share your knowledge and teach those around you about things that you know or methods you might use is another sign of a great leader.

Think about the last time someone came to you for help. Did you give them a quick summary of how to do something and dismiss them, or did you walk them through the process step by step, following it up with a process document that you can share so everyone else learns the process too? If you walked them through it and documented it afterwards, you’re in the minority and you’re well on your way to becoming a great leader. You’ve taught one person who now has the knowledge to teach others and promote a culture of knowledge sharing.

Don’t be afraid to learn from other leaders around you that inspire you. Approach them and ask for leadership assistance and advice with any specific problems you might have – be it in the form of a people problem or a decision that needs to be made that you could do with some guidance on. More experienced leaders will always be willing to share their knowledge and experience.

Don’t Be Afraid to Deliver Tough News

One of the hardest and most challenging roles of a manager is to deliver bad news and discuss bad performance. Telling someone they have earned a promotion or are in line for a raise is easy – telling them that they haven’t been meeting expectations is much more difficult. Delivering bad news comes in many forms. This might be to a single employee or it might be to a whole department or even to the whole business. Understanding that this forms part of what is expected of you means accepting that you’re not always going to be the encouraging, feel-good leader that you want to be. The skill in delivering this bad news while offering solutions and encouraging innovation and motivation is a delicate balance that only truly great leaders understand. Delivering bad news, picking yourself and your employees up and moving on is something that you need to learn early on in your career because it’s going to happen more often than you’d like.

Expand Your Knowledge Constantly

A true leader never stops learning. The business community is constantly innovating and evolving, and keeping your skillset on the cutting edge means constantly seeking out knowledge and information about management and leadership.

There is a wealth of information available to you as a manager, and many leaders who have been there before, just like you are encouraged to do, have shared what they know in books and interviews. Leaders like Jack Welch run institutes dedicated to the pursuit of leadership excellence, and many companies run programs dedicated to learning more about leadership. While qualifications like an MBA will teach you many great techniques of effective management, constant and continuous learning will teach you skills and methods of leadership as well as making you aware of some of the challenges facing leaders today, which Aston University Online summarises well.

Seek out books written by CEOs and leadership consultants and consume as many of them as you can. Easier to read books like Toybox Leadership by Michael Waddell and Ron Hunter are and full of incredibly valuable leadership lessons. Leaders like John C Maxwell and Jim Collins, amongst many others, also offer essential reading for new leaders.

The pursuit of leadership excellence is a learned skill that takes many, many years to perfect. You need intimate knowledge of business and the many aspects of it, and an arsenal of skills to call on depending on the situation. Understanding people, their motivations and incentives and how to lead them through even the toughest situations is what sets your leadership apart from others. Constantly trying to improve yourself as a leader through reading and listening to management and leadership skills and advice from leaders who came before you should be an almost daily activity for leaders. Above all, you are the person that your team or even whole company might be looking to for help and guidance, and if you can be that person, you are well on your way to leadership excellence.