Of the many, many things that today’s leaders are expected to do, one of the most sought-after abilities in a leader is someone who can motivate and support those around them to bring their best selves to the work they do.
Indeed, thanks to the transition from managing task workers to leading knowledge workers, being able to tap into the collective insights, experiences, and talents of those you lead has become a critical factor to determining an organization’s capacity to adapt and respond to the changing needs of today’s global market.
Over the years, I’ve been asked to participate in several leadership series in sharing my insights on how leaders can help their employees to succeed, whether the focus was on improving communication, driving productivity, increasing employee engagement, and the like.
While I’ve shared these bite-sized leadership insights elsewhere, I thought it’d be fun to share some of those ideas here on my blog. To that end, here are eight things every leader can do to help inspire and empower their employees to bring their full selves to work, and thereby encourage and support their ability to succeed and grow.
1. Listen, listen and then listen some more to what your employees have to say
Today’s world is moving faster each day, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be making time to listen to the concerns and issues our employees face. Making time in your day to ‘walk the floor’ and listen to what your employees have to say will not only keep you in the loop about potential problems that might be on the horizon, but it will also demonstrate to your employees that you care about the conditions they have to deal with.
It’s also worth noting here that the goal here is not to simply act on what others are telling you. Rather, the goal of listening in leadership is to help the other person feel heard and understood [Share on Twitter]; that you want to better understand their reality and the challenges they face and how it might impact their ability to succeed in achieving the goals you’ve given them to attain.
It’s also a great way to ensure that you’re not simply focusing on the things that matter to you, but are taking into account the needs of those under your care.
2. Remember the job of a leader is to help your team to succeed
When it comes to leadership, it’s easy to think that being in charge means that you basically get to tell people what to do. While you can certainly do that, there’s no question that you and your employees won’t get very far as most of us don’t like to be micromanaged in how we do our jobs.
Although leadership does draw an air of respect, the truth is that over the long run, people are looking at you not because of your title, but because they want to see what you’ll be able to bring out from those you lead. Indeed, the longer you hold a leadership position, the less people become interested in you and the more they become interested in what your employees have achieved under your guidance.
There’s a reason behind the popularity of the saying people don’t leave organizations, they leave their bosses, and that is employees want to know that those in charge are invested in their growth and success as much as they expect their employees to be invested in the work they do for their organization.
3. Focus on what your employees are doing right and not just what they’re doing wrong
Numerous psychology studies have shown that our perception is influenced greatly by what we choose to focus on and unfortunately, how often that focus is on what we don’t want instead of what we want. Add to this the fact that several neuroscience studies have shown that it takes three positive events for our brain to move past one negative event and you can see just how easy it is for leaders to simply focus on the things that their employees do wrong as opposed to when they get things right.
And yet, while it’s understandable why we focus more on the negative events over the positive ones, the simple truth is that no one is inspired to do better, to be better, when we focus solely on what’s going wrong around us [Share on Twitter].
As such, instead of being the boss who basically waits to berate their employees for making yet another mistake, be the leader who joins in the excitement and satisfaction expressed by your employees when they achieve a key goal. Although it’s an outcome that you expect your employees to attain, people need to see that leaders care about their successes as much as they do about their failures [Share on Twitter].
4. Don’t shy away from difficult conversations with your employees
One thing we all struggle with at one time or another is having to give bad news or pointing out when someone is doing something wrong. However, if you want your team to trust your ability to lead them both in good times and bad, it’s important that you deal with these issues when they come up, rather than allowing them to fester and get worse over time.
Time and again, we talk about leaders serving as an example for those they lead and one key area where this applies is in what we’re willing to do during those inevitable tough moments. By showing your employees your willingness to step up and say what needs to be said to get things back on course, you will remind them why they should follow you, and especially how you’re driven to do right by those under your care.
5. Keep communicating your vision to your team
As a leader, it’s easy to keep your vision on the forefront as that kind of big picture thinking is par for the course the higher up the organization you go. However, for your employees on the front lines, it’s easy to lose sight of how their contributions fit into the vision you have for your organization.
That’s why it’s important when talking about your organization’s shared purpose, you don’t stop at describing what your vision is, but that you expand on it by providing your employees with insights into how you see their efforts contributing to that vision, if not also reminding them of how vital their contributions are to your organization’s shared goals.
Remember, people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves; to know that what they do matters [Share on Twitter]. By consistently communicating to your employees your vision and the shared purpose behind their collective efforts, it makes it easier for people to appreciate the value of their contributions both now and in the months ahead.
6. Address any negativity upfront; don’t allow it to fester
Many times, the biggest obstacles we face don’t come from external factors, but from internal ones like an employee who is continually negative about a team’s plans. While the easy thing to do is to simply label them as a negative personality, a better approach is to take them aside to find out what’s really behind their resistance.
This will allow you to either address any valid concerns they might have, or if there aren’t any, remind them that such behaviour is not acceptable as it only serves to bring the whole team’s momentum to a halt.
This will also demonstrate to the rest of your employees your commitment to help remove any obstacles that might prevent them from succeeding in their collective efforts.
7. Own the blame but pass out the praise
This might seem like a selfless remark, fostering images of a leader throwing himself on the sword for the sake of his team. But it’s far from being an altruistic concept; rather, the point here is that your goal as a leader is to provide an environment where your employees can not only do their job, but be successful at it. And as we all know, nothing makes us feel like we’re less than successful than dealing with the fallout when things go wrong.
Of course, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t encourage your employees to learn from their mistakes. Instead, your goal here is to make sure these setbacks don’t distract your employees from doing their job; that they serve more as opportunities to gain insights and new understandings, as opposed to being an occasion to finger-point and assign blame.
At the end of the day, the best thing a leader can do is to let their employees know that they expect great things from them. And not only because they believe in the organization’s vision and what it can lead to thanks to their collective efforts. But also because they believe in the potential of those under their care; of their native talents and abilities which can help them to collectively achieve these goals.
Without question, there’s nothing more powerful in inspiring those you lead to challenge themselves – and in particular, challenge their assumptions of what they can accomplish – than knowing that those in charge not only believe in you, but are cheering you on to succeed.
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