September 8, 2022

Five ways to become a better leader

Peter Nilsson shares his five best tips to become a better leader

Here are his 5 tips for better leadership skills from Peter Nilsson.

1. Recognise that everyone can be a leader

The first thing to remember when it comes to leadership is that everyone in an organisation has it within them to lead. Leadership and the ability to lead people in common tasks are not confined to formal positions, titles and roles, such as team leader, manager or senior executive.

This is the first bad habit that improving organisations must break. While one person usually has the role of boss, everyone has the ability to lead and be a leader. Being a good leader is a social process – it means involving other people and engaging them in common tasks and goals for effective delivery.

Good organisations understand that their leaders of tomorrow exist among their ranks. They must therefore create an environment where people are encouraged to actually step up and deliver. Employees need to be able to show that they can lead their friends and colleagues.

Leadership is a skill, not a role. This means that anyone, in every position, can develop their leadership skills – if given the opportunity. This will improve an organisation to no end.

2. Be willing to step back and observe

It is important for leaders to have the ability to “step out” and actually observe themselves. This means taking a “meta view” beyond themselves and to look back on themselves as who they are as leaders – as if looking in a mirror.  

By taking a dissociated view, by leaning back for a moment, and witnessing one’s own manner, style and behaviours. Doing so allows leaders of every stripe to consider, what works and what does not work? This means taking time to look for patterns of success, and the not so successful and taking note of what could be done better in the future.

This technique opens the door to continuous improvement and strengthening leadership skills over time.

3. Try “turning around the iceberg”  

A lot of leaders have learned to lead people on a behavioural level. This means having a style of leadership that focuses on telling people what to do, which is leadership at activity level. These leaders emphasise the importance of the task but leave out the context or reasoning.

Skilled leaders often “turn the leadership iceberg around”, meaning that they have a style of leadership that communicates the background, presupposition or reasons why completing a task or achieving a goal is important.

These leaders are good at explaining the ‘why’ behind a given task or activity. (“This is what I want to achieve, this is why it is important.”) This mode of leadership is highly motivating because it gives every task – no matter how small – both value and importance.

4. Lead by making intentions clear

Coupled with “turning the iceberg around” and communicating background is the need to express clear intentions. Instead of just telling their people what to do and where to go, skilled leaders are good at explaining the purpose and direction that sit behind their decisions.

People often think they have an intention in mind (“we need to discuss X”), but this frequently turns out to be an activity. Instead, the intention here is, “what do I want as a result of this discussion?” That result is the intention, while the discussion is the activity.

When you have the ability to show people direction, it make it easier to them to follow you.

By pointing to a mountain on the horizon, this gives background to the task of travelling to get there. In addition, by explaining the intention clearly, everyone understands then why they are going there. No one ends up going in different directions.

Instead of telling people what to do, skilled leaders point to where they are going. By also making clear why doing so is important, it grabs people by the heart.

5. Know when to be involved and when to give space

When good leaders know what they want and what they seek to achieve, the next skill they must master is the ability to connect what they want with how to conduct themselves in the right way in order to get it.

What this means more specifically is – through having mastered self-observation – to use the right combination of talking, listening, presenting and instructing. This means knowing how much to get involved personally and how much to leave people more space.

When leaders talk more in terms of their intentions, this opens up room for their employees to perform at their best. Giving more freedom demonstrates trust and encourages people to dare to step up to the challenge; to show that they can shine.

For leaders, the constant adjustment of leadership style is – ultimately – the real art of demonstrating good leadership. It becomes a feedback loop of refinement, and builds effective leadership skills.

Peter Nilsson

Peter Nilsson

Speaker, author, podcaster and coach

Peter Nilsson is passionate about helping individuals and organizations develop their communication skills for more effective collaboration and smoother change processes. After publishing his book, The Future Team - What makes teams successful? in 1997, he spent 25 years working with and interviewing successful people and organizations worldwide. In doing so, he has sought to find, analyze, synthesize and spread 'success keys' for communication, collaboration and change. His passion for this work continues to propel him and he is thrilled to share his wisdom through his courses here at Hups.