10 ways to be an effective leader and boost team productivity

Written by Danielle Owen Whitford

Effective leaders are critical to the success of high-performing teams and organisations. But with so much on their plate, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and put the blinkers on.

Unfortunately, this often results in neglecting the needs of the team, ultimately sabotaging company goals and objectives. After all, people leave bosses, not companies.

So how can you ensure you’re a leader your team feels motivated to follow?

Here are 10 tips to help you be an effective leader, have a great team, and improve productivity.

Not a leader? No worries. These tips can also help you in your job every day!

1. Communicate clearly

Clear communication is essential for any business. Misinformation, or lack of communication, leads to confusion, wasted time, and dissent within teams. All of which creates an ineffective work environment, potentially hurting your bottom line.

In a Salesforce study of more than 1400 corporate executives, employees and educators, 86% of respondents cited ineffective communication as a cause of workplace failure.

That’s why, as a leader, it’s important to make the effort to provide your team with the information they need to feel supported, and do their jobs efficiently.

This includes:

  • Setting clear expectations of tasks and roles.

  • Transparency about important topics.

  • A clear understanding of how to provide and receive feedback.

2. Listen effectively

A great leader listens! They’re aware of how their team is going at any point, so they can provide support when and how they need it. They also ensure they’re available to listen, and stay open to where a conversation may take them.

Here are some questions to consider as you listen to your team:

  • What are they excited about?

  • What are they stressed about?

  • Are expectations clear? And can they articulate them clearly?

  • Is this person overworked and overloaded?

  • Do they feel fulfilled in their work? Or can you help them find that?

  • Is this new or something that has been happening for a while?

  • Are they happy with their career development opportunities?

You have two ears and one mouth. Don’t forget it!

3. Empower your team

A key part of team success is delegation. But this can be difficult for leaders, and take time to learn. A great way to start empowering your team is with small tasks that play to their strengths. Coach them when they need it, and provide autonomy to foster trust and motivation.

At Pioneera we like to set parameters and have regular check-ins, so people know there is time set aside to ask for help or direction.

Furthermore, according to Google’s manager research, teams feel empowered when leaders provide opportunities for growth. Delegation = growth.

Also, not everyone craves, or can handle, the same degree of autonomy. So be sure to listen to your team to understand what is right for them to help them perform at an optimal level. It’s that understanding that makes leaders effective.

4. Make decisions

Decision making is an essential part of leadership. The choices you make have a big impact on your team and their performance. We could write about decision making for days, but today, lets focus on timing.

Hesitation can lead to missed opportunities for your team and organisation. But so can jumping in too fast - and too hard. Leaders should be aware of where their team is at, and think a few steps ahead. For instance, pushing your team at 110% for too long may achieve a short-term goal, but can also lead to burn out - and not just for you.

Short bursts of intensity can be great for heightened focus to reach a deadline. However, when that intensity is prolonged, it can lead to chronic stress, impacting individuals, team performance, and the company’s bottom line.

Reduce risk by considering your team’s well-being in every decision you make.

5. Recognise achievements

Expressing gratitude can go a long way in helping your team thrive. In fact, a global study revealed the number one thing a leader can do to promote great work is to recognise their people. 

What’s more, 78% of employees feel highly engaged when they experience strong recognition. Higher pay didn’t even come close! That’s why it’s important for leaders to recognise achievements, and thank team members for a job well done.

Here are some simple, effective ways to help your team feel valued:

  • Say “thank you” in person for a job well done.

  • Find inexpensive ways to express your gratitude - a thank you card and movie/dinner voucher goes a long way.

  • Find out what your team likes, and celebrate success with team and morale-boosting activities.

6. Resolve conflicts

Unresolved conflict can cast a dark shadow, spreading stress across your team, affecting employee well-being and productivity. The good news is, workplace conflict can be managed and prevented. And a great leader is not afraid to get in, and mediate towards a solution.

Firstly, take a deep breath! You can’t resolve a conflict if you’re worked up yourself. Then observe or talk to those involved to identify the type of conflict that exists.

It could be as simple as a personal disagreement due to someone tapping their pencil loudly, or raising their voice when they shouldn’t have. Or perhaps team members aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on the goals of a project.

Another common cause of conflict is confusion or disagreement over responsibility. This is particularly common nowadays in organisations with flat structures or agile ways of working, as success relies on collaborating between teams/departments.

Amy Gallo, author of the HBR Guide to Managing Conflict at Work, suggests that if the goal “is to stick it to the other person or to show them that they’re wrong, think of a better goal… the goal is really something else. It’s to meet a tight deadline. It’s to come in under budget.”

The key is to listen to those involved, identify the root of the problem, and establish common goals to move forward. Such situations need to be resolved quickly and effectively to prevent and minimise negative impacts on individuals, teams, and organisations. You might think it easier to ignore, but it rarely is.

7. Be accountable

A great leader will lead by example, owning their successes and failures. They report why things go wrong, and work towards solutions. This positive behaviour can be infectious, and rub off on your team. And a team that holds themselves accountable is a team focused on finding solutions.

But fostering a culture of accountability can be easier said than done. An analysis published in Harvard Business Review noted that 46% of managers rated poorly on holding their teams accountable. Evidently, some leaders find it easier to avoid conflict rather than facing the music to move forward.

Victor Lipman suggests the following to help leaders with accountability for themselves and their team:

  • Model the behaviour yourself.

  • Take objective setting seriously - yearly, quarterly and monthly. We love SMART goals.

  • Make conflict resolution a priority.

  • Reward people according to performance.

  • Make candid evaluations a priority.

8. Provide lasting solutions

Sometimes it’s easier to place a band-aid on a wound without dealing with the cause of the injury. This same quick-fix philosophy applies to leadership decisions. Unfortunately, the real cause of the problem may still be present, ready to emerge and sabotage your team’s goals at any moment. Or worse, lead to larger, costly issues within your organisation.

So instead of going for the easy fix today, consider the longer term ramifications, and endeavour to solve problems at the source, not just the immediate symptoms.

9. Be human

You may be a leader, but you’re still human, and capable of making mistakes just like everyone else. In fact, according to Administrative Science Quarterly, leaders who acknowledge this, and demonstrate humility, generate higher levels of engagement and performance from their teams.

Empathy is a powerful leadership trait that partners with humility. It’s not just feeling sorry for someone when they’re down, but imagining yourself in their shoes - and doing something about it.

This helps you lead with trust, not fear. A far more effective way to inspire, and boost morale and loyalty, to achieve common goals.

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Nobody’s perfect, we’re all doing the best we can.

  • Accept that failure is a key part of success, as that’s how we learn.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask your team for solutions.

  • Champion the best ideas, regardless of where they come from.

  • Respect differences of opinion to promote tolerance in the workplace.

Our founder Danielle Owen Whitford is a big fan of saying “the only failure is not trying” - so get out there and give something a go!

10. Keep learning

According to Denning and Brown, the half-life of a learned skill is only five years. Meaning, half of what you learned five years ago is outdated, and what you learned 10 years ago may be irrelevant. This puts particular pressure on leaders, as it’s their job to help their team navigate these challenges.

To stay relevant and effective, leaders need to seek out and be receptive to new learning. Furthermore, great learners make great teachers. So the more you learn, the more you can coach and equip your team with useful knowledge to solve problems and perform at peak level. Exactly what a great leader does!

Here are some suggestions:

  • Read books, blogs and research publications.

  • Learn from your personal network (in person and online).

  • Learn from external industry events.

  • Listen and talk to your team and colleagues to identify problems and opportunities for further learning.

  • Look for tips in unlikely places - watching a barista once manage a coffee queue whilst I was desperate for coffee was the best example of customer service I’d ever seen. And I use that example regularly!


A great leader communicates clearly, listens, and empowers their team. They make the hard decisions, resolve conflicts, and practice and promote accountability.

They recognise employees, and strive to provide lasting solutions for the betterment of the company and individuals involved.

Humility and empathy go hand in hand to help us lead by trust, not fear. Leaders learn from mistakes, and continue learning to prepare for the challenges of tomorrow.

And the beauty is….we can all be leaders, if we have a team or not.

Final thoughts

Yes… it’s a lot to take in. It even sounds a bit mythical. Like this so-called great leader character hails from ancient lore. But it is attainable. Bit by bit.

Work through the points. See what works, and what doesn’t. Listen to your team, and monitor their well-being, stress, and productivity. Pioneera can help.

Pioneera identifies early warning indicators to help you avoid and manage stress in your team, for a happier, more productive workplace.

To discover how Indie can help your business to have a high performing team.

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