What’s your company’s number one priority?

For most companies in America, it’s leadership. In fact, 58% of all companies in the U.S. report that their top strategic priority is closing their organization’s leadership skills gap. But before you can close the leadership gap, you need to know what makes a truly great manager.

At 1Huddle, we know that a great manager is a leader, and a great leader is a coach. We are in the business of building great coaches. Today, 70% of a team’s engagement is determined solely by the manager, which means having great leaders is the number one most important thing when it comes to determining if you people are going to stay engaged, fired up, and ready for work.

So before you start pouring money into leadership development opportunities, we’ve outlined 1Huddle’s top five critical leadership tips. Basically, it’s the five things that every manager, CEO, and coach needs to prioritize if they’re going to become a true leader who can help inspire, engage, and motivate their team. We see these every day in leading organizations we work with across the globe.

Maybe you think you’re already a great leader? If that’s the case, then keep reading — because great leaders never are always looking for ways to keep growing and improving. That brings us to our first tip:

1. Actively seek out learning opportunities 

Leadership is a journey, not a destination.

The world’s best leaders are constantly seeking out new, innovative opportunities to improve themselves and others. They see development as a lifelong process and want to keep leveling up every day. 

So, how do you start?

The best way to continuously hone and improve your leadership skills is to make learning a habit. Commit to actionable things you can do every day to learn something new: whether it’s reading at least 50 pages of a book per day, starting your morning by reading three news articles from three different sources, or allotting a set amount of time every day toward developing a skill or hobby — the key is to make a commitment and stick to it. If you do that, you can turn learning into a lifelong habit that feels just as natural as the rest of your daily routine. 

In a professional context, learning can be both formal or informal. You don’t have to attend a LinkedIn leadership seminar every week to hone your leadership skills. You can start small, which is often what makes the biggest impact. 

Maybe you commit to checking in with at least three team members a week, and you devote part of each check-in to talking through your goals and asking your team how you can help them achieve their objectives while avoiding burnout and high stress. Maybe it’s something as simple as sitting in on a call from a different department so you can discover more about what your colleagues are working on. 

The most important thing is to continuously seek out — and create — opportunities for personal and professional growth at every stage of your life and career.

2. Become a more strategic thinker 

True leaders understand the importance of remaining nimble and open to change. 

Great leaders stay ahead of the curve by leaning into change and acting strategically in response to evolving environments and trends. Effective leaders are always thinking about the future, and they have a long-term vision for how they’re going to accomplish their goals.   

A study from Harvard Business Review (HBR) on the leadership practices and effectiveness of 60,000 managers and executives in 140+ countries and 26 industries found that routine strategic thinking is the number one most important quality that highly effective leaders possess.

HBR found that “a strategic approach to leadership was, on average, 10 times more important to the perception of effectiveness than other behaviors studied. It was twice as important as communication (the second most important behavior) and almost 50 times more important than hands-on tactical behaviors.”

Now, you might be thinking: sure, strategic thinking sounds great. But what does it actually entail?

There are a lot of common misconceptions about strategic thinking. For example, many studies on strategic thinking focus on an isolated process that only happens once or twice per year. However, strategic thinking isn’t a one-time special event. It’s a mindset, and it’s a method. 

Strategic thinking means outlining the best route that will work to exceed expectations. To be a truly strategic thinker, you have to:

  1.  Set a vision
  2. Clearly lay out how you can accomplish that vision
  3. Lead and inspire others to help accomplish the team’s vision

Essentially, strategic thinking involves planning, mapping things out far in advance, and inspiring others to do their part so your team can get to where you need to go. 

3. Be willing to honestly assess your weaknesses and strengths

This comes down to being willing to step on the scale, so to speak.

You can’t know where you need to improve and what you should focus your efforts on if you don’t take the first step: self-assessment. That might be in terms of your actual self, your team, your organization, or all three.

When 1Huddle released our Future of Work Scorecard, we challenged leaders to assess how their company measures up when it comes to raising every worker. The scorecard also challenges talent leaders to assess how well they are preparing their company for the future of work from a leadership perspective.

Now, the scorecard isn’t easy. A 100% score would mean you have done everything possible to prepare your workers for the future. Great leaders are excited for challenges like this; they want to know how they measure up to others, they want to see where they’re lacking so they can work to do better, and they want to be constantly challenged. 

Stepping on the scale can be scary, but it’s the only way we can start the journey toward real, long-lasting progress. That’s why great leaders look for opportunities to self-assess so that they can continue leveling up and improving all day, every day.

4. Focus on improving team morale 

All leaders have one thing in common: other people are looking up to them and relying on them.

This means you can’t be a self-serving leader. You need to be focused on how to help and support your people. Otherwise, you will fall into a common leadership trap known as the “disease of me.”

The term “disease of me” was coined by Coach Pat Riley, one of the most successful NBA coaches of all time. In his New York Times bestseller The Winner Within: A Life Plan for Team Players, Coach Riley explains that the disease of me happens when people become more focused on themselves and their own self-interest than in the good of others and the common good. Think about members of a team who put their personal agenda ahead of organizational success; those are the ones afflicted with the disease of me.

So if you want to be the kind of leader who wins by supporting others rather than only supporting yourself, focusing on your team’s morale and engagement should be a top priority.

A study of 2.5 million teams found that if an employee gets daily feedback from their manager, they are three times more likely to be engaged. Conversely, when a worker doesn’t communicate with their manager on a daily basis, they’re more likely to become burned out, stressed, and directionless — three of the top factors that contribute to America’s excessively high employee turnover rates. This is especially true during COVID, when many teams are still working remotely and in hybrid environments. Even before the pandemic, Gallup found that only 15% of workers are engaged at work. 

So if you want to lead a team that’s motivated, engaged, and inspired, then regularly checking in with every member of your team and asking how you can help improve their experience is the best way to improve morale and create a world-class team.

5. Take a stand by fighting for what’s right

This year, there’s been a greater focus than ever on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

However, simply taking measures to hire a more diverse team or engaging in monthly DEI training isn’t going to make a sustainable impact if every person in an organization isn’t personally devoted to making their company and team culture truly inclusive. And that starts with leaders. 

That means you can’t be afraid to take a stand and fight on behalf of the values that matter. So if you’re on a call and someone tells a prejudiced ‘joke’ that everyone knows isn’t really a joke, it’s your responsibility to say something. Maybe you’re on a call with a client and they make a misogynistic comment; don’t just “let it slide.” Even a simple probing question like “I don’t think I understood what you were saying there. Could you clarify?” can help someone realize that they’ve made an unacceptable comment. 

You might lose a few ‘friends’ along the way, but you will gain respect and appreciation from the people who matter. Plus, you will show your team that you believe in taking action when it comes to the principles you stand for, rather than simply talking the talk.

On a recent episode of 1Huddle’s Bring It In podcast, one of our guests said something impactful about this topic that I’ve been thinking about ever since; these words of wisdom came from Shadae McDaniel, Vice President and City Leader at the All Stars Project of New Jersey: “I would love to see us go past just diversity and inclusion and get to a space of true belonging and ownership… It’s one thing to get a bunch of people that look different together in a room, but it means nothing if they don’t know how to be together.”

As a leader, it’s our job to ensure that we’re cultivating a culture of true belonging and ownership. Because when the future of work reflects the diversity and vibrancy of America, then our teams, our workers, our organizations, and our society will be stronger and more successful than ever.