Woman smiling


How to be a better leader at work?

20 January 2022

If you are hoping to undertake an expat assignment during your career, it is likely to be in a leadership role. Expats are usually sent on assignment to affect some kind of company change. 

You may be tasked with:

  • Developing management talent locally
  • Instilling company culture
  • Transferring knowledge to overseas partners
  • Further develop export markets in that region

No matter the end goal, leadership skills are critical to success. It is also an in demand skill across a wide range of sectors. 


Research by the World Economic Forum indicates in-demand skills are likely to change in the next five years and skill gaps will continue to be high. Leadership and social influence appear in their top ten skills of 2025 so becoming the best leader you can be at work is likely to pay off. 

It’s difficult to become a better leader without knowing the kind of leadership styles that exist. As an employee you are likely to have experienced more than one. International jobs website Indeed say to be a better leader it is first important to understand your leadership style. This is likely to impact your team and how they respond to you. 

It is often necessary to employ different styles of leadership depending on the situation you are faced with. Additionally, some styles are more aligned with modern working principles than others: 


1.    Autocratic

Autocratic leaders take individual control of decisions with little to no input from team members. They typically make decisions based on their own judgements and ideas. An autocratic style of leadership is useful when the nature of work requires centralised control and the leader is entirely responsible for decisions made. 


Typically autocratic leadership is used in the military or to manage large groups of people in a factory setting, for example. It may also be used for a short time while an organisation undergoes significant change. This kind of leadership if used in the long term can be detrimental to teamwork and employee morale.


2.    Democratic

Democratic leadership involves group participation. Much like the political system, everyone's voice is heard. A democratic leader values open discussion and the exchange of ideas. Democratic leadership fosters teamwork and boosts morale as everyone has a stake in the decisions made by the business.

Democratic leadership helps open a business up to new solutions and ideas however it can get stuck in discussion and requires careful management to ensure everyone's voice is heard and represented. 


3.    Transformational

Transformational leadership is inspirational. Transformational leaders focus on the big picture and long term improvement over the day to day. It’s a proactive and passionate approach to leadership. It inspires teams to reach for the best possible outcomes and improve themselves. 

Transformational leadership can increase productivity and allow teams to feel empowered but it can lack focus and there can be challenges developing a practical path.


4.    Strategic 

Strategic leadership encourages everyone to make decisions in line with organisational strategy. Strategic leaders think ahead and get their teams on board with the strategy. It creates a great framework for everyone to work towards however similar to transformational, it’s a long-term style that may not offer the solutions needed to issues that need immediate action.


5.    Laissez-faire

Laissez-faire leaders let their teams make their own decisions. It can work well because it empowers employees to make their own decisions and get on with their work. However, it can damage productivity if there is not enough direction or if motivation levels are low within a team.


6.    Servant 

Servant leadership is a style where the leader is focused on serving their team. They focus on the growth and wellbeing of their team. Servant leaders provide their teams with the support they need to do their best work. It is an effective method of earning respect and a positive relationship with leadership. The challenge with this type of leadership is that decision making can be slow and the wellbeing of the leader may suffer. 


7.    Bureaucratic 

This form of leadership focuses on processes rather than the individual. There is a clear chain of command in the team. It is a stable and steady form of leadership often favoured by the public sector where it is important to remove personality and ego from the decision-making process. This form of leadership means things are done to meet specific requirements. The downside is decision making takes a long time and it does not allow for much flexibility. 

Separate to leadership styles and qualities, there are leadership skills. Like the other elements of leadership, you may have some skills associated with a good leader naturally. Others you can learn. 

The skills needed to be a good leader are varied. Great leaders can combine different skills to suit a particular situation. Some of the skills that make an effective leader include:

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Active listening
  • Dependability
  • Creativity
  • Problem solving
  • Clear communication
  • Flexibility
  • Teambuilding
  • Patience

Great leaders are an essential component of success for any business but particularly those with ambitions to expand overseas. In global business, quality leadership is important for building robust teams and ensuring the projects required to grow the business are completed. 

If you are an experienced employee, you are likely to have seen the results of weak and strong leadership. If you have ambitions to become an expat during your career then understanding how to lead is going to be key. There are so many elements involved in positive leadership, it can be difficult to know where to start. We suggest:


1.            Know your leadership style

Most of us develop a leadership style as a result of experience and our innate personality. Did any of the leadership styles listed above ring true for you? Spend some time researching it. Understand the strengths and the weaknesses that may be associated with how you lead. See if there are other styles you could learn about and employ in elements of your day to day work.

2.            Communicate openly and transparently

Clear and honest communication is essential in good leadership. Your own candour and transparency sets the tone within your team. If you make this a key value for yourself, then your team is likely to follow. Great leaders can tailor their communication style to suit the situation. 

Take the time to understand how your team members prefer to communicate and use that method. This should help build trust in your team. Being a good listener is also important, use active listening tactics like silence, asking questions and reflecting what has been said to show you not only heard but understand what has been said. 

3.            Teach rather than instruct

Good leaders know how to show others what is needed rather than instructing them on what to do. If you are leading a team aim to coach them toward being more collaborative and committed rather than telling them.

If you attempt to control colleagues, you are unlikely to get the levels of engagement you need to reach your organisation's goals. Instead, Business News Daily suggests helping those you lead discover the choices they have in front of them so they take ownership over the task at hand. 

4.            Stay positive

What can separate a good leader from a great leader is how they respond to a negative situation. It is easy to be positive when things are going well but how do you respond to a negative situation? If someone on your team makes an error, large or small, how do you react? Research conducted by Robert Mann showed if you can find 3 positives about a difficult situation it helps people work together to find a solution.

5.            Ask for feedback on your leadership

Your colleagues are not the only ones who benefit from honest communication. It may be difficult for you to assess your leadership ability yourself so ask your team for suggestions on what you could change about your style and approach. Equip them with the language needed to provide feedback in a positive way. Having this skill will be useful to them, not only in their day-to-day work but later in their career when they reach leadership positions themselves.  


Becoming a better leader takes time, research and self-reflection. If you are hoping to become a better leader for an expat role, we also have some tips for a successful expat job interview and questions to ask at your interview that may be helpful.

Before you leave for assignment, don’t forget international health insurance so you can access private medical treatment should you become ill or have an accident while overseas.