Leadership begins once you intentionally focus on building relationships. Because, great leadership is about strong relationships, especially those you have with those you are assigned to lead.
We’ve all had varying degrees of connection with those that direct our work or shepherd the organization. I’ve been exposed to bad examples that would yell from within their office across the floor to get your attention or told their staff they were disposable to try to inspire them to be better at their jobs. But also to great leadership demonstrated by giving me freedom to implement new strategies and challenging (with support) to get out of my comfort zone.
The road to great leadership starts early. It begins in those first moments and is then reinforced over those next few days and months to see if that first impression was really who you were. Someone your staff can trust and respect or one they want to avoid and talk about behind their back.
Below are a few suggestions to define where your leadership begins.
1. Give credit where credit is due – that doesn’t mean giving credit to yourself for being at the top of your team’s org chart. This means defending and fighting for your team to get the recognition they deserve for the work they put in, and to own the failures whenever they miss the mark. Leadership isn’t about kudos. It’s about giving your team the space to learn in failure or showcasing their value in success.
2. Stand up for your staff – Always and forever, be on your team’s side. Correct misinformation. Defend failure. Highlight successes. In all organizations, there are moments of dissent. It can be people making jaded comments after months or years of not changing their situation. It can be people making ignorant remarks because they don’t completely understand what others do outside of their own work “silo”. It can just be someone trying to be funny. (Stress “trying”) Negative remarks made about your team members may not be meant maliciously, but they also can’t be allowed to be dismissed or considered “OK”. Be there for them. They’ll be there for you.
3. Respect your staff – if you want your team to respect you, you have to respect them first. What they do. How hard they work. The time they put in, at work and away from their family. Their expertise. Their life choices. Get to know your staff and demonstrate your respect for who they are as people.
4. Include your staff – nothing should ever be a surprise to your team. Yes, I get sometimes there might be legal reasons you can’t alert your staff to an organization’s situation but at the very least, your leadership should include treating your staff like adults. What that means is any events that they must be included in any communications about events that impact them. Determine if the information is something to be shared 1-on-1 or to the entire team, but it must be shared. Immediately and with empathy, not in an organization or department wide email.
5. Treat your team like experts – your team gets hired for reasons. Assume they know what they are doing and let them. A leader embraces the fact that their team should be smarter than them at a variety of things. It only makes your team stronger if your team has varied strengths to fill other’s weaknesses, including your own. Also, delegating and letting them own programs and projects will only increase their expertise and their role in the organization. Win-win.
6. Have a plan aka don’t waste their time – have you ever led a staff meeting without an agenda? Then you didn’t lead anything. One of the key ways to earn your team’s trust is by valuing their time. Whether it’s in a meeting, assigning tasks, following up, performance reviews, social activities… basically any interaction with your team should feel like it has some value. Even the fun stuff. They’re busy people.
Leadership begins in the small actions you take to earn their respect. And by treating those “small” actions with the importance they deserve, your team will want to have your back further strengthen your unit.
Have any other gestures or actions you would recommend to earn your team’s respect?