Enabling your employees to be at their best while doing their best may be the most important work you do as a leader. As many experienced and accomplished leaders will attest, it will also be some of your most satisfying work. Do it well and watch your employees soar.
Whether the challenge of leadership is relatively new to you, or you’re an evolving or accomplished leader taking on even greater challenges, here are five powerful and proven ways to focus your efforts.
Develop your people, don’t just lead them – When leaders define themselves as people ‘developers’ rather than managers, they bring a powerful mindset to supporting their employees. And it shows. Developers actively look for opportunities to provide the right degree of challenge, encouragement and support to those they lead. They help employees focus on their strengths, rather than their limitations. And they recognize employees for their efforts, as well as their outcomes. If you want to bring out the best in others, consider your mindset, as well as your actions, as you step up to the challenge.
Be fully present – Being present to those you lead may seem like an easy undertaking. However, we know from employees that being (or feeling) seen and heard by leaders is often a challenge. What do you notice about your own habits, and the ways in which you are present (or not) to your employees? Here are two concrete places to look:
- When you dedicate time to an employee conversation, do you follow through by giving it your full attention, without the distraction of wandering thoughts, incoming messages and alerts, or the next item on your to do list? As simple as that may sound, it’s harder than you think.
- When you invite a conversation, are you a full, and fully present listener? Which means you’re listening carefully to hear what is and isn’t being said. It also means you’re listening to understand as well as to convey your interest in what your employees have to say, rather than listening to formulate an answer, solve a problem, or judge.
Challenge yourself to be present to your employees – fully connected in the moment and listening with all your attention — and see what happens.
Let them know you care — When it comes to leading others, your competence as a leader naturally plays a role; however, it’s not enough. Employees also want to know you care about them and are willing to bring your heart to building a relationship. They want to know you’re prepared to invest time in getting to know your employees and what they’re good at (as well as allowing them to get to know you). They also want to know you’re prepared to be open, honest and real with them – and willing to invite the same in return. A process that, over time, can help to build mutual respect and trust – the most essential ingredient of all. Challenge yourself to bring your heart, as well as your head to the process of leading others and watch your relationships flourish. The work to be done matters, but the people you lead matter more.
Lead with latitude — Whether you lead a team of one, or many, one of your most important roles is to point the way forward. Doing so ensures that those who report to you have a clear sense of where you’re headed as an organization or team, and why. However, when you lead with latitude, you create the space for team members to choose ‘how’ they will proceed. When you lead this way, you also communicate your confidence in team members. In the process, you create a far wider range of possibilities than you might ever have imagined, including the opportunity for employees to play to their strengths instead of their limitations. Often, with truly impressive outcomes.
Celebrate failure and success – When it’s safe to fail, employees are far more likely to try a new approach, or something they’ve not previously tackled. Either way, there’s an opportunity for the stretch and growth that leads to learning, and the potential for increased capacity and confidence. Sadly, far too many organizations fail to recognize the role of failure and may even attach a stigma to it. Leaders who celebrate failure as well as success foster a climate of safety and trust among those they lead, a condition guaranteed to bring out their best.
Whether you are just starting out, are growing as a leader, or ready to accelerate your leadership difference, the work you do to bring out the best in those you lead can pay huge dividends. Developing others ranks at or near the top of the list of what makes an effective leader. Not surprisingly, it is also one of the attributes employees most expect from their leaders. A winning strategy for all.