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Tons of books and articles have been written about the topic of leadership. They have identified, among others, situational, servant, or transformational leadership styles and strategies.
But what I often see is missing, is the deeper, very human, side of it. People call it emotional intelligence or empathy, but all in all, what is it, really?
I thought I would share with you some of the practical findings from my own experience. Here are 5 approaches I believe every leader should take when working with people.
Let’s start with something many might consider rather obvious – fairness. It’s not quite about rewarding people equally regardless of their contribution. Sure, some have more influence over company performance than others, and for that, they’re paid a salary and given incentives.
This connection between performance and reward is an important part of the fairness attitude. The important thing to remember, however, is that it doesn’t make anyone greater or lesser than those around them.
To me, fairness means that since I do what I’m best at the best I can, I expect everybody else to do the same. So, in that sense, I make a contribution that’s equal to my capability – and this deserves fair treatment.
You should know that everyone’s work is needed for the success of the whole. You might be leading a team, but the coffee machine cleaner makes sure they have the energy to work! In other words, respect everyone around you and the work they do, as it is important.
To that, fairness is treating a person as you would want to be treated. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. This will give you a new perspective which could greatly help you understand their standpoint.
The fairness attitude boils down to treating people as individuals, not as job positions. Out there, this approach is usually found under what is called “servant leadership”. Here’s what it means for us in practice:
This is actually a good sign. If people aren’t afraid to say what they think, it means you created a culture of trust. It is essential for meaningful disputes, which in turn can drive good changes. So, in difficult cases, all you should do is have a factual discussion to understand others’ points of view without judgment.
Not everyone is suitable for any position, regardless of the will or effort they put into it. There is nothing wrong with that. To achieve the best outcome, ambition must be balanced with capabilities. It is therefore essential to know and acknowledge yours. A good leader should be able to help you with this.
But how to determine your strengths and weaknesses? It’s not easy. Simply taking a moment to write them down won’t usually work as we’re all subjective and prone to bias.
A better way to do it is either to ask your HR Team or a professional coach for help, or take a good(!) online test like Gallup CliftonStrengths which we use at Predica.
Some strengths work better in certain situations than others. For example, leading people, working with customers, or working in the back office, all require different skills.
Just see which ones you believe are needed for a given position and focus on them when selecting the job you want to do (or develop into) or people who could suit it (if you’re a leader).
We had situations at Predica when people moved to other teams or positions even “down the org chart”, which by many could be considered a demotion. However, in those cases it made sense.
People felt better either because they were better suited for those roles, or it took the pressure off their shoulders. So, always consider the best strengths-to-position match. Perhaps poor performance is just a bad fit for the role?
Motivation and aspirations are the internal drives that push us to achieve more and be better people. What I found interesting is that they can be greatly reinforced by external factors that every leader can and should provide – inspiration and guidance.
Simply speaking – you need to get to know what people aspire to and… help them achieve it!
For some, it might be difficult to articulate their ambition at first. You can always try to challenge them, dig deeper, have them discover it. Sometimes guiding people can make them realize that they can achieve what they would otherwise have never thought of.
There is nothing more rewarding than appreciation of our effort and the belief from others that you can really do it. But… it must be genuine to work.
People sense dishonesty, so to be a better leader is to like people, to feel good when they succeed in their challenges, and to ensure they receive credit for it (even if some of it was of your making).
From strengths and aspirations, the path leads directly to identity and purpose. Mastering your skills and strengths provides you with great ease and flexibility to move within your area of expertise.
But then comes a great question of why. Why should I do what I do and what impact can it have?
This is where two powerful factors start to play a paramount role. They tend to drive more senior people in particular:
We spend a great deal of our lives at work, so for a leader, it is an opportunity to step up (again ?) and lead other people to find their identity and purpose. Rather than matching them to a role, this is more about setting goals people can achieve on their own and trusting they will make them. Still, your support and guidance are by all means not excluded here.
For some, it might be like an adulthood test: you let people go off on their own but with a reason and direction to follow. Once they have them, they become self-driven in their personal development and achievements.
Remember that if you’re a leader, all the guidance you provide to others also applies to you. If you don’t know your strengths, what motivates you and what your identity is, you can’t help others to find theirs.
So, the last – or actually, the first – thing to do is to work on yourself. Continuously and relentlessly! There’s no finish line in personal or leadership development. It’s a whole life journey, but like all journeys, it starts from the first step – and the best time to take it is always now.
Leaders should observe and be ready to step in when someone is lost, has to unwind or simply needs help. It will create a powerful bond between you and the person. In the end, I believe that everyone strives to be better day by day, so the best thing you can do as a leader… is just to help them out.
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