In our leadership development training, we like to start out by asking people to list as many characteristics about their former leaders that they both abhorred and adored. This tends to start out as a fun exercise, but takes a more serious turn as people then start to look at themselves and their own leadership skills and behaviors.
1. Has a clear vision of how people’s work meets the leader’s expectations
2. Provides timely, clear, constructive feedback
3. Expresses appreciation and gives credit where credit is due
4. Actively listens and answers questions
5. Treats others with respect and kindness
6. Consistently fair in their treatment of others
7. Trains, develops, and grows their people
8. Willing to jump in and help out when things become difficult
9. Has an open door policy and is available
10. Supportive and protective of their people when things go wrong
Obviously, this list is not comprehensive. There are many great leadership traits we could add to the list.
One of the primary skills of strong leaders is excellent communication. Look closely at the list. How many of these items are directly related to good communication? Every item on the list above is impacted by one’s ability to communicate. Indeed, the definition of “conversation” encompasses not only what we say, but also everything we do and how we treat others.
In spite of some people’s best efforts to avoid it, conversations play a large part in a leader’s success. Leaders are often promoted because they possess a high degree of skill and expertise in a given area. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are good with people or know how to be an effective leader.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself that can improve your leadership skills and help you get the results you want.
To help answer this question, you might ask yourself, “How do my people treat me?” For example, if you are warm and friendly, your people will probably be warm and friendly in return. On the other hand, if you are cold and blunt or if your demeanor is unpredictable, shifting between Mother Theresa and Attila the Hun for example, your people will likely go to great lengths to avoid you. Be approachable and consistent in dealing with others and they will reciprocate.
Don’t assume they know this even thought it may be obvious to you. Recent research indicates that somewhere between 70-95% of people do not know how what they do contributes to their organization’s success. If most individuals lack this understanding and you haven’t conveyed it to them, then you are missing the opportunity to increase their motivation and the likelihood that they will be as productive as they could be. Ask them if they know their impact on the organization’s success, listen to their response, and be prepared to fill in any holes.
I once had a woman in class who had worked for a major telecommunications company for 19 years tell me that in all that time, no one had ever told her, “thank you.” Unfortunately this example is not uncommon. People need to know they add value and make a difference to the organization, and they need to be acknowledged for their efforts. It takes so little effort to say, “I noticed you did ________ and the impact of that was _______. Thank you.” Leaders often don’t realize how doing this regularly can positively impact their organization, so they don’t. Good leaders do.
A number of years ago, I decided I needed to express more appreciation at home. I determined that I would try to say one positive thing to each member of my family each day. That evening, my wife fixed a wonderful meal. After we finished, I told her that I greatly appreciated her efforts that evening in making sure we had such a wonderful dinner. Stunned, she looked at me and said, “Are you sick or something?!” I knew right then that I was in trouble. Obviously this was something I wasn’t doing often enough! Look for opportunities to catch people doing the right thing, then tell them privately and specifically what they did well and the positive impact it made. Then thank them and walk away. You’ll make their day.
If you are not, take a look at yourself and review the clarity and specifics of the directions you are giving. If you are vague, then you are leaving the interpretation of your instructions up to your listener. If you didn’t get what you wanted and you were clear, the next step is to sit down with the individual and discuss why they got the results they did and what they could do next time to improve the outcome.
You can become an effective leader! As in anything else you do, awareness of what is working and what is not is the first step. Then make a plan of action to correct or improve what’s needed. Ask yourself what you adore and abhor in a leader and them ask yourself if what you are doing is worthy of adoration. Being deliberate about your leadership development will improve your results!