As we have celebrated our 25th anniversary this year, we have also looked back at leadership practices that helped to make it possible. It is very easy for leaders to get caught up in processes, tasks, and daily fires, but consistently prioritizing and developing people is what matters most for sustained success. Here, we examine seven leadership practices that add up to big positive impacts on organizations and the individuals that comprise them.
When employees seek answers to “what should I do?” about a variety of issues, what they are often really seeking is reassurance or validation for an answer already within them or simply for someone they trust to point them in the right direction. It’s important to pause before presenting solutions and instead ask, “what potential paths have you thought about thus far?” Doing so frequently reveals that the employee is on the right track and presents an opportunity to reinforce their thinking, shore up any gaps, and create a collaborative dialogue that promotes growth and trust.
Processes, by nature, are prescriptive. Still, virtually every employee brings a different style, tone, and approach in carrying them out. So long as nuanced differences like these do not present definitive problems, allow employees to put their own spin on organizational practices and perceived norms. Doing so not only makes employees feel more comfortable in getting their work done but also opens eyes to different ways of doing things that may be found to be advantageous for others to follow as well.
Leaders should never lose sight of the fact that employees don’t have the same volume of senior-level interactions as they do. Great leaders are deliberate about elevating ideas from their teams and championing their skills, capabilities, and results. Encouragement and credit where credit is due builds greater trust and moves organizations towards a culture that crowdsources solutions at every level.
Embracing individuality as explored earlier also means recognizing that people respond with more positivity to motivations that match their personality and preferences. As a former leader phrased it, “I treat people the same, but motivate them differently.” A previous post on understanding team makeup and personalities noted iconic football manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s rejection of a motivate-everyone-the-same approach. He knew that he could fiercely admonish a player like star forward Wayne Rooney because it fueled the player to step up his performance and show others what he could do. Ferguson also knew that the same approach with another, perhaps younger or less experienced player could cause that player to crumble.
Just because someone doesn’t occupy a senior-level position within an organization doesn’t mean they can’t be an effective leader. Senior leaders should actively seek out and create opportunities for employees to demonstrate and develop leadership skills at every level. This could come in the form of asking them to put together a training presentation on a topic they are interested in or more advanced than others in. It could be asking an employee to research alternatives or options for a to-be-addressed issue and share what their recommendations are.
Creating opportunities as noted in the previous section is highly important, but so too is recognizing that some employees may be exactly where they want to be and are not looking to be stretched or developed further at all times. Leaders need to directly seek feedback from individuals periodically to determine where they are at, where they want to be, and how the leader can best help them. As circumstances both inside and outside of the workplace change, so too do individual goals and aspirations. vcfo explores this via its People Analyzer, which places focus on present and future objectives and how the organization can help an individual achieve them.
Asking for feedback, whether via 1:1 interaction, employee satisfaction surveys, or other channels, is vital for sustained success. However, if feedback is solicited but dismissed without action or explanation for inaction, it can severely erode trust. Leaders should demonstrate how seriously they take and how appreciative they are of employee feedback by following up with definitive actions where they are warranted and, conversely, communicating the “why” when actions may not be taken in other circumstances. Above all, employees want to feel valued and want to be heard when frustrations mount or when ideas for improvement surface. Responding insufficiently and acting with disinterest degrades employee engagement and satisfaction.
As we noted at the outset of this post, in-the-moment issues and emails at the top of the inbox have a knack for getting in the way of bigger picture assessment and exploration from leaders in terms of how they are prioritizing people in their organization. Effective leaders are deliberate about making the time for this type of exploration and acting on it to maximize employee satisfaction and contributions and create engagement.
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