In the past, leadership was straightforward and simple. Leaders could demand performance, and they motivated their teams with across-the-board rewards or punishment. Today’s leaders face a more informed and diverse workforce, creating both opportunity and challenge for leaders and organizations.
As a result, leaders need to be more creative and resourceful in how they lead and engage their teams. What worked in the past will not likely work today. Leadership is not about authority, position or status. Leadership is more about channeling the contributions of others and understanding the human context.
From our years of research and assessing the talents, skills, and experience of thousands of employees, managers, and executives, we have seen many ways that people can engage their teams at work through effective leadership. Based on our findings, we have identified eight keys for engaging your team. Today we’ll discuss the first four, and we’ll write about the other four in a post next week.
First, you have to look to yourself and set the example for behaviors and attitudes you wish to see in your team. Be a role model.
This is easier said than done, as with much in life. In order to set the example, you must first have confidence in your own abilities. From this base of confidence, be enthusiastic and engaged in the business, showing your commitment at every turn. Confidence and a positive attitude are infectious, and being a role model is perhaps one of the purest forms of leadership.
Just as great attitudes are infectious, so, too are negative ones. As a leader, be purposeful in providing constructive feedback about the organization and its leaders, be optimistic and positive about the future, but never be negative – that unproductive and relentless complaining about the current or future state of the organization and its people. Organizations and people benefit from constructive criticism. Organizations innovate and people grow.
If you can’t always project positivity in your leadership role, then perhaps you should consider leaving it—for your own good and for the health of the business. People need to be able to look up to others within the framework of their professional lives, as they do in their everyday personal experience. Staying positive and “above the fray” will make you a go-to person for others—this is another subtle form of leadership.
Think about all of these concepts in terms of your “leadership brand.” What’s a leadership brand? Your brand consists of your preferences, strengths, and weaknesses. You should be transparent in all of these areas, so that people have clarity and understanding of ways to use your leadership for their betterment. You should be predictable and consistent. Your team and peers should know what to expect from you, in both good and bad times.
Also, display the proper sense of urgency. While not everything that happens at work is important, you must gauge when issues are mission critical and/or deadline-sensitive and which ones are not. For those issues that are mission critical to the organization and team, show more urgency and initiative, and be focused on getting the results you need. For all other issues, you should show others ways to relax and calmly go about your work.
For issues that are important to you, drive hard and take a stand. Be courageous when the concepts and positions you value are on the line. Don’t be afraid to be wrong, take a position, and share your vision with vigor—people respect clarity and vision, whether they ultimately agree with you or not.
The second key for engaging your team through effective leadership is building trust and understanding. We wrote about this in great detail in a previous post, so here are some of the highlights:
¨ Have faith in the ability of others.
¨ Make sure that feedback with those on your team is a two-way street.
¨ Be proactive and open in seeking feedback on your own leadership performance, as well as other aspects of your role, from others.
¨ Take a personal interest in others, what’s important to them, what they want and need from you.
¨ Be predictable and follow-through on commitments.
¨ Be willing to say no to others, when situations call for it.
¨ Have the best interests of both your team and the individual members of your team when making decisions.
The third key for engaging your team through effective leadership is valuing the contributions of others. This will be difficult for some of you reading this, because this requires a heavy dose of humility—if you don’t have it, get it, because when you have humility, you realize that everyone on your team is better than you are at something.
Identify strengths and weaknesses of each team member—doing this will help you to understand where you can help them, and where they can help you. Each team member plays an important role in the success of the group. They do this by bringing something special and unique to the table, and you need to convey this to the group and to each individual member.
Shape and implement action strategies based on leveraging the strengths of each member.
The fourth key to engaging your team through effective leadership is making work fun and interesting for others. Do you and your employees actually enjoy coming to work? Do you, as the leader, believe that work should be fun? If not, you’ll have a difficult time with this key.
If you find that when you ask yourself these questions, you discover that having fun is difficult for you personally or for the organizational culture as a whole, then at least focus on making work enjoyable and interesting. People spend more time in work-related activities than any other activities in their lives. Life is too short, when you think about it, not to have fun during or enjoy doing the activities that take up the most time in your life.
Are people smiling at your office? Do people laugh where you work? Are people too uptight and “all business” in their attitudes? If you answered, “No, No, Yes” to these questions, the stress levels at your workplace are too high for optimal performance
Laughter is a natural coping mechanism for all of us—even people who survived the Holocaust used humor and laughter to survive. We’re not comparing even the worst work environments we’ve seen to the Holocaust, but if it worked for people who were enduring torture and waiting for their deaths, then perhaps it could do you a world of good to take the air out of the room at your overstressed office with some humor.
To make work more interesting, try making it a game. Reward yourself for completing a task that normally takes 90 minutes in under an hour. You can do this by treating yourself to your favorite lunch. “Punish” yourself for not achieving a task-specific goal—perhaps by donating $5 to the political party that opposes your beliefs and values (Editor’s Note: If you didn’t laugh at this attempt at humor, perhaps you’re too uptight and not having fun at work, thus illustrating our point!).
Tune in next week for four more keys for engaging your team at work through effective leadership.