Youth leader

The best 4-letter acronym to boost your leadership skills

Most leaders are problem solvers.

They are used to putting out fires and quickly finding solutions to get things done. But in their quest to get things done, these same well-meaning people often miss important opportunities to build their leadership skills by letting others step in.

The best leaders understand that it is only because they box solving a team member’s problem does not mean that they need to – or should. As a leader, it’s best to spend your time on high-level strategic movers, not every problem that pops into your orbit. But if you continually model that you are the only one authorized to solve problems, your team will always defer to you before taking action. This can slow things down unnecessarily and make them feel like they may not be skilled enough to solve problems independently, which retards both business progress and professional growth.

In contrast, leaders who provide support and empower their employees connect and communicate better with them, build trust, and help them become more confident in their decision-making and problem-solving abilities.

The next time you feel the need to rush to fix things, take a break and use this easy-to-remember acronym for REAL instead:


‘R’ is for respect, because you must respect the professionals you have hired for their roles. They are the ones who best know the day-to-day ins and outs of their duties, it follows that they also have the ability to handle any problems that may arise. Your employees are the best experts on the subject they oversee, so remind them that you trust their knowledge and wisdom.


‘E’ is for empathy, which is about feeling things with someone, seeing things through their lens, and understanding why they have those feelings. It differs from sympathy, which is understanding things from your perspective, which can be relatively narrow and completely tainted by your individual experience.

For example, if one of your direct reports is struggling or unsure about taking action, try stepping back and putting yourself in their shoes. Empathy demonstrates your support and encouragement, which promotes empowerment and trust.


‘A’ is for active collaboration. As tempting as it may be for you to make a decision or solve a problem independently, resist the urge and instead work with a member of your team to find a solution. By analogy, walk alongside them on their journey rather than walking ten paces in front of them. By partnering with them, you show that you are ready to help them, but you still empower them to take the lead.


‘L’ is for listen. Even though your employees are likely to be bright and resourceful, they still feel moments of uncertainty and need reassurance, especially when tasked with making an important or difficult decision. Active listening (read: impossible to multitask) is one of the best ways to show your support. Also, be sure to use your listening time to understand their concerns and perspective rather than formulating a response.

Although simple, the get REAL method is not always easy. Here are some strategies to help you maximize it:

Paraphrase with a question

If one of your team members shares concerns, repeat what they said in question form. This subtly reinforces that you are actively listening and helps clarify that you understand how they are feeling. Plus, it encourages them to explain things further if you missed relevant details.

Ask open-ended questions

Rather than asking yes or no questions, which interrupts communication, ask open-ended questions to stimulate conversation and keep the dialogue going. Talking things out is often the exercise that helps others feel more confident in their choices and finding solutions on their own.

Affirm strengths

No matter how accomplished or successful we are, we all sometimes suffer from impostor syndrome. As a leader, you can help your employees combat this by reminding them that they are creative, talented, and resilient, and have already been successful in making tough decisions and solving complex problems.

Help connect to resources

Sometimes the best thing you can do is be a liaison. By connecting your people to others who might be able to help them or highlighting useful documents to review, you can quickly track their progress, support them, and hold them accountable through the process.

Remember that the best leaders create other leaders. And by letting go of the need to solve your team’s problems alone, you’ll create opportunities for them — and for you — to grow as leaders.