Some of the best leaders that I ever had were not my direct managers. One such individual was an Executive VP and Chief Legal counsel at the first company I worked for. Because I was single at the time and didn’t really know anyone, I frequently stayed late in the evenings to catch up on my work. Noticing I was often there after hours, this executive would frequently visit my office, pull up a chair, ask me questions, and offer advice for dealing with challenging situations. Late one evening before I left the company, he visited my office to wish me well and offer encouragement in my next assignment.
These types of individuals seem to take an interest in those around them. They have a knack for connecting with people no matter who they are. People end up gravitating to them and seek them out whenever they have concerns and challenges. They have the ability to make everyone feel important and valued. I have been lucky over the years to have known many of these types of individuals.
Here are 12 tips for supercharging your leadership and improving your relationships with your people.
1. Be a super human, not super-human. Being kind, considerate, and polite to people will help build respect and improve your relationships. People who are cold, terse, sarcastic, cynical, aloof, and demeaning to others do not inspire engagement or trust in people. Likewise, always having the last word on every idea, solution, or plan does not inspire the participation of others. You may think you are too busy to notice other people, but being oblivious to others will undermine your credibility as a person and a leader.
2. Get to know people. I worked for a major aerospace company as a consultant for a number of years. I once had the opportunity to run into the CEO of the company. He introduced himself and asked who I was and what I did for the company. From then on, whenever he saw me he always called me by name and asked how I was doing. Over time, I noticed he did this with everyone. He spoke to each individual by name and he always asked them how they were doing. Everyone felt that he had their best interest at heart.
3. Identify individuals’ strengths. Take the time to identify and recognize individuals’ strengths including those that may go beyond their job. Look for opportunities to help people use their strengths and talents in a way that brings out the best in them and their contributions. This will reduce turnover and create a sense of satisfaction in the work that people are doing.
4. Ask for and give feedback. People like to know how they are doing. Giving them feedback allows people to make immediate adjustments and meet your expectations. Asking for feedback from your people signals that you are serious about your leadership and making changes that will help you improve. This requires humility and a desire to learn from those you lead. This also allows you to give people more of what they want and eliminate any unwanted behaviors that may be impacting your effectiveness.
5. Ask people for their ideas. The CEO I mentioned earlier often asked, “What one thing have you learned about the company that you think I should know?” If you ask a person for their ideas or if you ask them to help you solve a problem, you are not only sending the message that you value their ideas and experience, but you are also creating a learning opportunity to hear something that you may need to know.
6. Listen to what people say. If you ask questions, it’s important to truly listen to the responses or you will undermine your credibility as a leader. Ask questions that are deliberately framed to help you gain insight on a particular topic. Notice what people say in response, and equally as important, what they are not saying. After identifying what’s going unsaid, formulate and ask additional questions to help you understand what matters most to them. For example you might ask, “How respectful are people in our department?” Suppose the person says, “It could be better.” Notice that the person didn’t address what disrespectful behaviors were occurring. You might follow with the question, “How are people being disrespectful to one another?”
7. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Connections are established by communicating with people. Receiving and providing feedback, establishing expectations, celebrating successes, identifying concerns or fears, making process improvements, and fostering a culture of candor and openness is all done through communication. You can greatly enhance the engagement of your team by being thoughtful and deliberate in your messaging, rather than letting people try and figure it out on their own.
8. Recognize people for their accomplishments. This requires that you catch people doing the right things, otherwise you will have nothing to say. Observing others’ performance or behavior and then saying something about it will help people recognize that you are appreciative of their efforts while establishing the value you place on their contributions. I once had an employee tell me that after working for a certain telecommunications company for 19 years, not once did anyone ever say, “Thank you.” Hopefully this is not the norm at your company. Recognizing and acknowledging people’s contributions makes them feel valued and will motivate them to continue to provide their best efforts.
9. Speak victory into people. After providing constructive feedback, we sometimes forget to speak victory or to encourage others to continue in their efforts. Saying something like, “I know that you can do this. Don’t give up. Just keep trying and learning and making adjustments. You can achieve the results you want.” Encouraging words from a leader when a person doubts themselves or their abilities will make a huge difference to people. It gives them hope and confidence to continue along the course they have chosen.
10. Allow autonomy. Once you have given clear directions, allow people to do their work. If they can’t complete the task assigned in the required way, perhaps they need more training before they can measure up to the appropriate standards. Setting clear expectations and providing feedback will allow the person to learn and take responsibility for their results. Micromanaging people sends the message that you don’t trust them and their abilities. After a while, people will get discouraged and give up. Give people what they need to be successful then let them do their job.
11. Be visible and available. Set appropriate times when people can ask for your assistance or instruction. Being an absentee leader may hinder your results if people cannot get the direction or information they need to proceed when challenges arise.
12. Be supportive. Frequently ask people what they need in order to complete their projects on time. Consider asking them about any additional resources, manpower, time, money, equipment, or training they may need. Check in with your people regularly and offer your support as you ask for regular updates about their progress. On the occasion that things don’t turn out as planned, stand behind your people. One of the worst things you can do is to throw people under the bus to save your reputation. There is nothing that will erode trust and devalue your leadership faster.
Cultivating these essential leadership behaviors will not only improve your results, but connect you with your people and inspire them now and for the rest of their lives. They will remember you and what they were able to accomplish under your guidance. Don’t we all want that kind of legacy?
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