Leadership is the accomplishment of a goal through the direction of human assistants.’ – W.C.H. Prentice
Whether you are a starting entrepreneur CEO, a recently promoted manager or part of a company’s senior leadership team with over 15 years’ experience in the role, being a great and inspiring leader does not come easy. There are many qualities and skills that can help elevate your performance from OK to great, however, this article will focus on just 5 simple things that inspiring leaders do, which tackle the most common issues and complaints I hear about in my practice.
#1 Create shared purpose. Great leaders don’t just talk about what they do or how they do it, but they get more personal by sharing their purpose. By now you’ve probably heard, read or watched Simon Sinek’s TED talk on how great leaders communicate. One of his most popular quotes is that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. Thus, when you as a leader communicate from the inside out and share your purpose/the company’s purpose with your employees and customers, you automatically get everyone on board with your ideas and you motivate them to want to be part of what you do.
Sharing your purpose means telling people why you decided to create the product or service you created, why you chose to get into that particular industry, why you accepted that promotion to become a manager or why, after more than 15 years, you continue to work in the senior leadership team at your company/organisation. When you share your purpose you let others see your most human side, one that everyone can relate to and one that many of your employees will identify with.
Leaders who create shared purpose, not only motivate their employees to believe in their ideas but they also attract employees who believe what they believe, people whose purpose is aligned with theirs. This is how you can become an inspiring leader and build incredible teams who achieve unbelievable results. This is how you as an excellent leader can attract people who are not motivated by money alone but by the work itself, by the opportunity to create, to innovate and to fulfill your shared purpose.
#2 Build trust. Understanding the social nature of our human species is key to building trusting relationships. Every person has the power to impact someone else’s life for the better or the worse, so it’s crucial for aspiring great leaders to work on developing the skills necessary to put the needs of their staff first, before any other business need or goal.
Research carried out by Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter has shown that 70% of all organizational change efforts fail due, amongst other things, to a lack of trust on the initiatives and ideas of the company leaders. Yet, a company’s survival depends on our ability to form trusting relationships at work.
When we look at how inspiring leaders build trust we see that, beyond creating shared purpose, they build systems that support their employees’ aspirations and dreams. We see organisations where the CEO and other leaders know all their employees by name, they know something about their personal lives and their personal circumstances are taken into consideration over the course of their careers. Inspiring leaders also make sure that there are mechanisms in place for their employees to share ideas, make contributions or raise concerns safely at work without fear of backlash, workplace bullying or job loss. Great leaders show equal respect to everyone, take all staff seriously and protect every single employee.
Employees who trust their leaders are more likely to buy-in to new ideas, to be on board with new changes and to go the extra mile to support the company’s goals.
#3 Listen. Nelson Mandela, the son of a tribal chief and who became one of the world’s greatest leaders, explained that one thing he learnt from his father was to always speak last during a meeting. Giving people the chance to put forth their ideas and listening to everyone’s contributions before even uttering the first word as a leader lets your team know you really care about what they have to say.
A 2017 research carried out by Leadership IQ on over 27,000 people revealed that more than half (53%) of employees feel that their contributions are being ignored by their leaders, which has an adversely negative effect on individual performance, on team spirit and on the company’s overall performance.
Oscar Trimboli’s book ‘Deep listening’ is an excellent tool for those looking to become better listeners for the benefit of individuals, teams and organisations. Deep listening can take place when you learn to tune into what is being said for the purpose of arriving at a solution together, not for the sake of responding and ignoring the myriad of fantastic ideas that have just been shared. So, how do you listen better? You can start by taking these three simple steps:
- Listen with purpose. Be present and just listen. Do not let your mind wander off or get distracted by your own thoughts/imaginations of what you’d like to respond to what’s being said. And do not, not ever, interrupt others while speaking.
- Listen to the content. Take a mental note of important points to talk about later or write them down on a piece of paper. This will help you refer back to who said what and really give people’s ideas a chance by digging deeper into them once everyone has had their say.
- Listen to the unspoken. Do not just listen to the words but observe people’s body language. How are the speakers moving? What are their voices like? Do they sound confident, shy, scared? What are they looking at? Are they making eye contact with you or with others or are they looking at the wall? Are others looking at them in approval or with disapproving faces? Listen to their pauses or the struggles in their communication. Do they seem scared, sad or empowered when sharing their ideas? Does it feel like they are not elaborating fully?
Just following this simple three-step approach will shed enormous light on how much you had been missing out on from your employees and how much your team and company stands to gain when everyone has been heard. An interesting finding is that employees who feel their ideas or feedback was heard by their leaders are 18 times more likely to recommend their company/leader as a great employer.
#4- Show empathy. Inspiring leaders recognise that they are in the business of growing people, and as such, they work on cultivating and practicing empathy for those under their care. Empathy is the ability to understand and recognise people’s feelings, but it also involves letting others know that their feelings are understood, which helps people feel that their perspective is being taken into account. This is a key skill great leaders use to build great teams, yet the Developing Dimension International (DDI)’s High-Resolution Leadership report found that only 40% of frontline leaders are proficient or strong at showing empathy.
Leaders who show empathy see people as human beings, not just as a number or their output. Think about this: When was the last time you made a connection between an employee’s performance decline and their personal life? When was the last time you used the information your employees shared with you to inform better decisions that supported them in achieving better mental health or work-life balance? Empathy also builds trust, increases work satisfaction, emotional intelligence and self-esteem.
# 5 Act as a coach to others. Most people think of managers and leaders as the ones who give orders, the ones who tell people what to do because they have the answers to everything. But powerful leaders set themselves apart by taking up the role of a coach and helping others find answers to their questions. Yet most employees experience lack of confidence or even fear of failing in their tasks, which push them, at times, to seek guidance and validation from their managers. While building a master-student relationship may result in trust and seeming support for the employee’s professional development, in reality this is an exercise that probably takes far too much time from the manager and which adds very little value to the employee, who will never develop the resourcefulness required to be successful independently.
A coaching approach to leadership provides a more developmental framework for the master-student relationship, with a strong focus on accountability on both parts – on the leader for their support and on the employee for their growth along their path to leadership and success.
A simple way to start coaching others in the workplace is by asking open-ended questions in order to gather information and explore issues more deeply to obtain a 360 view of the current situation. Questions such as, ‘What have you done about…?’, ‘What else could you try?’, ‘Who might be able to help you with this?’, ‘What options do you have?’ or ‘Why is … so important?’ can help your employee think deeper about their issue and put their own resourcefulness to the test.
It is true that it might take some initial time investment on the part of the manager, but in the long term, being a coach to others and developing their confidence and resourcefulness means that 1- your employees will not feel the need to keep coming back to you for support as they will have developed the mindset and tools necessary to tackle uncertainty by themselves, and 2- your employees are more likely to emulate your leadership style and become coaches to others, thus making a greater impact in the organisation.
So, which of these 5 behaviours will you start practising today? Which do you think might be the hardest for you to adopt? Why? Leave your comments below and let’s start a conversation!