We spend a great deal of our time working with CEOs and senior executives, to help them get the most from their people. One thing’s for sure, every business leader has their own unique personality and leadership style. Over the years, however, we’ve noticed a number of common traits that the best leaders possess.
1) They Listen – By listening, we mean REALLY listening. Not just hearing the spoken word but taking in all the non-verbal cues, like body language and the underlying reason behind the conversation. This often has a very different meaning from the actual conversation itself. What IS NOT being said frequently tells us a lot more than the words that are actually being spoken.
Effective listening requires total focus on the other person, and to do this we must eliminate the distractions that inhibit our full attention. These can be as simple as the everyday interference of phones ringing, email messages and other conversations. Equally damaging distractions can be our own internal concerns, explanations we want to offer, advice we want to proffer and our own personal agendas. All of these distractions prevent us from really hearing what’s being said by the people we are supposedly leading.
So, how can you listen better? A couple of simple disciplines can make the difference between a quality conversation and merely going through the motions:
Put aside your own agenda – If you think you can offer some advice during the conversation and know the way the story is likely to unfold, you are not giving the discussion your full attention. If you already have a view on the conversation you’re about to have, you will instinctively be planning your objections and counter points, this will drastically impede your listening skills. Your only agenda at this moment in time should be to listen. This will help you build relationships and trust, enable you to solve others’ problems and add the kind of value that people expect and deserve from their leader.
Avoid your distractions – If your email client makes a chime each time a new message is received, turn the sound off or close your Outlook application during a meeting. Even if your iPhone is on vibrate, this is still a distraction. Even if you don’t look at a message/take a call, it will still take up some of your valuable band width as you process who the message may be from and what the implications of not addressing it immediately may be. An ‘open door policy’ is all well and good but if the open door allows distraction through during a conversation, this will detract from the support you should be providing.
2) They don’t manage, they lead – Managing is very different from leading. Management involves getting the most from a group of individuals, using predefined metrics to achieve set objectives. Leadership, on the other hand, relies more on your ability to inspire, influence and enable others to achieve broader organisational goals.
Generally speaking, managers have reports and leaders have followers. Managers exert power and control over their reports to achieve their goals, whilst true leaders create circles of influence to get the job done. Which group of people do you think will be most engaged?
Rather than counting the value that your team is contributing, you should be enabling and inspiring them to deliver even greater value. Who will generate most value, the staff member reporting on their productivity at the end of each shift, or the employee given the tools and inspiration to deliver greater value with each subsequent shift?
To establish whether you’re more of a manager or a leader, consider the number of employees that come to you for advice, who aren’t direct reports. The more that do, the greater your circle of influence. Influence and motivation make a great leader, not power and control.
3) They’re genuine – If you want to really inspire people, you need them to relate to something that’s important to you, in a way that also makes it important to them. People recall stories much better than they recall numbers and facts. By communicating an idea’s genuine importance to you, you are creating a compelling story that your followers can relate to. This connection will help inspire them to go the extra mile to make your vision a reality.
To be this genuine isn’t easy. It requires a great deal of confidence, self-awareness and absolute clarity on your vision. But when you’ve got this right, there is nothing more effective at bringing down barriers and opening people up, and that’s when they’re at their most engaged.
4) They’re direct – A direct approach saves time, reduces misunderstanding and enables constructive conflict to take place. Being direct doesn’t mean being rude, it means telling people what they need to hear, rather than what you think they want to hear.
Good leaders possess the ability to be direct with people, without the fear of causing upset feelings and emotions. The key to this is a healthy dose of respect. The delivery should be the same, regardless of whether you’re talking to a stakeholder, a peer, an employee or a supplier. People react much better when you communicate with them on the same level, rather than talk up or down to them.
As well as respect, you should demonstrate equal measures of empathy. The ability to connect with and relate to others turns what could be regarded as a criticism into a statement of support. An employee is far less likely to get upset by your direct approach, if they feel they are being supported in achieving your vision.
Leadership tips are all over the internet but a true indication of leadership success is how engaged a leader’s followers are with their vision. By listening properly, empowering employees to achieve results and communicating openly and honestly, the subsequent employee engagement becomes inevitable.
What other tips do you have for successful leadership?