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My neighbor Todd Whitaker wrote an insightful book titled “What Great Principals Do Differently.” Inspired by his background in education, he explained how people shine in that specific role. It sparked a side project for me that involved asking friends and others in my network what stood out most about the leaders they worked with.
Different leaders have different strengths. Some are brilliant thinkers who treat employees unfairly — Steve Jobs is a well-known example. Others excel at motivating employees but lack strategic thinking to drive the company forward — apparently, this was an issue during Steve Ballmer’s time at Microsoft.
Over the years, I’ve learned it’s best to pull from leaders’ strengths while acknowledging their weaknesses. I’ve witnessed leaders in action and thought, “Wow, I can’t believe that’s how they treat their employees.” It definitely imprinted in my mind to never treat my team like that, no matter how much I previously admired that person.
I refer to this as opposite modeling. Some of my strengths have come from watching leaders do something and taking a different approach. These people weren’t bad leaders. I would consider them great in ways; they had super strengths that enabled their companies’ success. However, it’s important to learn from those strengths while acknowledging weaknesses — and avoiding them.
Leaders Emotionally Connect Their Vision With Others’
Leadership isn’t just execution; it has to start with a vision. Brian Tracy says of leaders: “They have a clear, exciting idea of where they are going and what they are trying to accomplish and are excellent at strategic planning.” In order to achieve that, they have to be able to “tap into the emotions of their employees.”
Great leaders know why and how their organization exists, and they’re able to communicate that purpose to employees. Employees know they’re providing value, and they find meaning in the work they do. As a result, they feel engaged and have a strong emotional connection to the business.
One of the most effective ways I’ve seen leaders do this is by inviting their team to be part of establishing the company’s vision, values, and objectives. This could involve giving employees a chance to share opinions and ideas during brainstorming sessions or meeting Q&As. It’s also important to solicit their feedback on how you can help them do their jobs better — or how you can improve as a leader.
When someone has a brilliant idea or has gone above and beyond, make sure you reward her. This doesn’t have to be elaborate — a quick email or shout-out at the next team meeting will make that person feel she’s a key member of the team.
Leaders Make Tough Decisions, Knowing Some Will Be Wrong
Those in leadership positions have to make tough decisions no one else wants to. Sometimes, these decisions are unpopular and gut-wrenching. Letting go of a talented employee because of internal conflicts or market changes, for example, isn’t easy.
More problematic is that “these are the decisions nobody wants to make, because they often have to be made with minimal information, unforgiving time constraints, and serious consequences.” There isn’t time for deep research, but a leader has to pull the trigger, regardless.
There will be times when these decisions turn out to be wrong. Not only do you then have to clean the mess up, but you also have to hold yourself accountable. It takes a lot of courage and self-awareness to own your mistakes, apologize, and learn from them so you grow. It’s important to remember that you’re not expected to never make mistakes — as a leader, you’re expected to identify mistakes.
Leaders Encourage Others to Take Ownership
If there’s one responsibility leaders need to perfect, it’s motivating a team. Emotionally connecting your vision with others is a great start. But we’ve learned at Calendar that one of the best ways to do this is by encouraging ownership among our team.
We’re obviously not the only ones to realize this. Jeff Bezos, for example, has long encouraged employees to think like owners. I’ve achieved this by granting my team autonomy. This means giving them the freedom to work however they like. They have flexible schedules, the ability to work remotely, and a platform to provide input.
Of course, I still have to guide my team through basic instructions. I provide team members with feedback, resources, and support when needed. As a result, everyone feels connected to a shared mission. But they’re also more motivated and engaged with the company and its work. There’s a strong sense of trust between me and my team. I trust they’ll deliver high-quality work on time; they trust I’ll be there to support them when needed.
Leaders Create a Safe, Positive Work Environment
Early in my career, I worked with leaders in different industries. Some were better at handling pressure than others — some would scream and belittle employees, while others remained cool and collected. The environments were completely different, too: In one, I felt safe and enjoyed going in because I learned something new each day. The other? Not so much. There was a toxic culture of backstabbing and a feeling that you were taken for granted.
Studies have found that employees who are led by people who can’t handle stress are less successful. Employees want to work with someone who treats others well, learns from failure, and provides a safe environment. In fact, leadership development consultant Sunnie Giles found that the highest leadership competencies were “high ethical and moral standards” (67 percent), “goals and objectives with loose guidelines” (59 percent), and clearly communicated expectations (56 percent).
Giles explained in Harvard Business Review, “When leaders clearly communicate their expectations, they avoid blindsiding people and ensure that everyone is on the same page. In a safe environment, employees can relax, invoking the brain’s higher capacity.”
I’ll be honest: There have been times when an employee mistake made me furious. I took a walk to calm down before saying something I’d regret and then rationally discussed the issue with the employee. I don’t want people to feel bad; I just want them to be aware of the mistake so it won’t happen again.
People can sense your stress and anger, but they won’t be motivated by them. As a leader, you need to learn how to become positively infectious.
It’s not easy being a leader. But there are steps you can take to earn others’ trust and become an example worth following. And if you push yourself to do that, your teammates will push themselves further than you ever expected.
April 8, 2019 at 11:57AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs