Many may believe that technology, social media and the digital age have altered how leaders effectively lead organizations and their people. However, of all that has changed in the last 10 to 20 years — and much has changed radically (IoT, AI, robotics, blockchain and bitcoin, for example) — leadership is not one of them.
Granted, the leader encounters ever-changing technology almost daily that didn’t exist a couple decades ago, but the most important tenets of leading people and organizations remain the same. How can this be? The answer lies not in these changing aspects of life and society, but rather in the people who are impacted by these changes — the people being led by the leader.
In a recent McKinsey & Co. study of over 100,000 companies worldwide, being supportive — simply put, being “for” someone — is a primary trait that determines leadership success, particularly among emerging leaders. It may sound easy, but what does it truly mean to be supportive?
Here are a few time-tested characteristics of effective leaders who are “for” the people they lead.
Listen to the people
“If you are not “for me”, you are against me.”
Listening to people is one of the easiest and most honorable, respectful ways to show people you are “for” them. Conversely, interrupting and not paying attention to people says to them, without specific words, you and your ideas are not important to me. Be “for” them by actively listening to them.
Listening may be coffee in the morning with an individual or an organized focus group with a broader cross-section of employees. It also means listening when people need to drop in and talk more urgently or informally. If the time is not available when they drop in, be honest and tell them that’s the case and schedule another time. But, above all, listen, so that you can be “for” them.
Make time for them
One thing is guaranteed in almost any leadership training program offered today: how to effectively manage time. While the focus is most often on the personal time of the leader, there is an equally important element of leader time often missing — making time for the people you lead.
This goes well beyond listening and involves the time necessary to help advocate their work, accomplishments and career and to express genuine personal interest in their life and well-being. The greatest time we may offer to another individual is when they have a strong personal need. Bear in mind, each person’s definition of a crisis is different. While addictions, divorces and health issues can generate an obvious need for personal help and time, don’t underestimate that people have day-to-day crises where they need an ear as well.
Some would call this managing versus leading. However, when people are feeling the pressure of crisis, whether large or small, it’s a great time to be there for them.
Focus on their greatest strengths
People are gifted with unique individual strengths, and when someone is “for” them, they’ll seek to find the best place for those strengths to be displayed, enhanced and nurtured. Some leaders may focus on fixing each employee’s weaknesses because they truly want to help the person. But that doesn’t mean leaders can make them change.
At the same time, leaders must be honest with employees about their weaknesses and shortcomings. Everybody has them. But rather than dwelling on fixing the weakness, leaders should focus on helping them accentuate their greatest strengths. In the workplace, it’s possible that someone may be better able to tap into their strengths outside their current organization. In that case, helping them transition is the best way to be “for” them.
A good leader is never too busy to help someone see something in a new light. Many times, it won’t take place at a convenient time. But, if leaders are “for” people, they will make time to teach them something they didn’t know or expand on the knowledge they already have.
The leader’s position in the organization inherently has access to more perspectives than any other position. It would be squandering personal and institutional knowledge not to share through teaching moments. Keep in mind no one wants to hear another person espouse how much they know or how smart they are. Instead, share stories and real-life situations that shed light on the circumstances and problems of the day. The opportunities for teaching moments are endless. Unfortunately, the time to share them may be limited. Take advantage of them when they are in front of you, and strike while that iron is hot.
Interested in learning more about effective leadership? Are you passionate about leading?
I would like to hear from you. I am always open to hearing others ideas and thoughts.