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Copy These 5 Communication Skills From Top Leaders

Do you struggle with communicating effectively? Communication is a key part of success at work or in other parts of your life. Top leaders have practiced and mastered the skills that enable them to communicate so well. Luckily, you too can learn these same skills!

Follow these strategies to practice essential communication skills:

Learn to Listen

Top leaders know that listening is a crucial part of communication. Learn to love listening and engage in the stories of others.

Try to really pay attention during a conversation instead of being distracted by your phone or another device. Have one conversation at a time to give each person your full attention. 

Practice retelling the person’s story in your mind to get better at listening.

Everyone wants to be heard. Others will notice that you’re listening to them and will go away from your conversations thinking what a great communicator you are when all you did was listen.

Avoid Slang and Informalities

It’s normal to use slang or other types of informal language while talking to friends or family. However, business usually requires a more formal language set. Pay attention to who you’re talking to and make the necessary adjustments.

Slang, acronyms, and informalities can also make some people feel uncomfortable, especially if they’re not familiar with them.

Focus on Being Brief

Top leaders know that you don’t have to make a long speech to be effective.

Practice being brief and getting your point across with fewer words and less time. People appreciate brief conversations and respect others who don’t go off on tangents.

However, ensure you’re still providing enough information while you talk. You don’t want to be vague or miss important details.

This skill may take time to develop, so practice it often. The next time you have a conversation, try to get your point across with less talking. Try to summarize the important parts and only focus on them while you talk. 

Pay Attention to Other’s Emotions

When you talk, take note of how the other person is reacting. Words are powerful, and communication can affect people in many different ways.

You may want to learn psychology to understand emotions better.

Show sympathy and empathy when it’s appropriate during a conversation.

Look at things from the other person’s point of view without criticism or judgment.

Be Charismatic

Communication is easier for charismatic people, but you can learn this skill.

One of the most important aspects of charisma is confidence, but not arrogance or self-righteousness. Confident communicators know their value and worth, but they’re also respectful of others.

Another facet of charisma is optimism, and it’s also a big part of communication. Even if you’re having a difficult conversation, focus on something positive. Top leaders are good at finding the silver lining.

Charismatic communicators are interesting, but they also share interesting information with others.They focus on innovation and new ideas that give people a spark.

Summary

You can learn to communicate more effectively by following these tips from top leaders. Practice these skills as often as possible. You’ll have many opportunities each day. Every time you have a conversation with anyone is an opportunity to practice a little more. And as you know, practice makes perfect!

Vision, Purpose, and Swimming with Dolphins

Leaders are supposed to provide vision, right? But if you’re in a senior manager role does that apply to you? You might say, “No, that’s the CEO’s job.”

I disagree. If you’ve been put in a leadership role, YOU, my friend, must cast the vision. Don’t wait on anyone else around you to do it.

For all the years I’ve been doing executive coaching, I still remain amazed at the frequency by which I find people with good job titles failing to have their own vision for things.

It’s Your Show

When you get selected or elected to a senior management role, the job is yours. With it comes the total responsibility for the success and outcome of your work team. People want vision. They need purpose.

It’s just not enough for people to show up to work each day. They come with questions about why. Specifically, why is my team here? What is this unit about? What does this department do? Can I get excited about our cause?

These questions become the leader’s responsibility to answer and answer well. If your team doubts any of this, they will refuse to buy-in. Their trust for you and the company will languish in the weeds. Soon they will start acting disenfranchised and unengaged with the work. They will just be going thru the motions.

On the other hand, if you can articulate a clear and concise story about the purpose for the team, then you’ll get much better buy-in. By casting a clear vision for the work and purpose, you will go much further to engage and inspire your team.

It’s not enough to say we’re here because…

You have to show them the landscape. Paint a beautiful picture of the possibilities and purpose. Give them their individual views.

Your vision becomes the rally point where the team can center their energy. Create a clear statement of the vision. Be sure the whole team knows what that might be. Don’t leave the understanding of the vision to chance.

Above all, don’t wait on leaders above you to cast the vision. Sure, you should take your vision and get alignment and approval from upper management, but don’t wait on that. Be bold!

The Entrepreneur’s Version

Small business needs the same inspiration from its owner/founder. It’s almost a given that a startup will have a vision. It makes perfect sense otherwise why startup?

Yet the original vision can suffer over time. As things progress, even owners can forget their original ideas. You get caught up in the day-to-day, making adjustments all the time. Then one day you wake up and the idea you had, the vision, is not there anymore. Your little baby has become something else.

If you own your business, take time to refresh and revisit your vision. Stuff does happen. You might have to adjust. But don’t lose sight of why you started what you started.

What do Dolphins Have to Do With This?

Nothing really. I just think they’re pretty cool.

Two dolphins happily swimming in the ocean. Digital illustration

Motivation Secrets of Great Leaders

business leader

Great leaders know how to motivate others. Since the amount you can accomplish on your own is limited, it’s necessary to have the assistance of others.

Someone who can motivate others to do their best has an incredibly valuable talent.

When you can inspire others, you can accomplish much more.

Motivate others to do their best:

Be emotionally supportive. To help others shine, removing the fear of failing or looking foolish is critical. Most people are frozen by fear and prefer to remain comfortable. When fear is greater than motivation, nothing happens. Removing fear can be just as effective as instilling additional motivation.

Provide additional support. Ask what resources are required. Does your employee require additional help or funds to get a project off the ground? Perhaps your child needs a tutor or assistance with creating a resume. Determine what resources are required for success and provide them.

Support is not limited to financial or physical resources. Support means standing alongside; proving you have their back.

Follow up regularly. Show that you care by monitoring their progress. It’s enough to ask and then listen. Asking questions will also help to keep them on track.

Don’t micromanage. Hold people accountable for measurable and attainable goals. Think about Goldilocks – ‘not too big, not too small, but just right.’ That’s the way to set expectations.

Be publically supportive. It’s one thing to support an employee in the privacy of your office. It’s quite another to be supportive in front of his/her co-workers. Parents are guilty of this, too. Avoid only supporting your children around the dinner table. Support them in public also.

Acknowledge and reward. Acknowledge progress and effort regularly. Everyone needs a little boost now and then. Ideally, give acknowledgment publically. Conversely, your disgruntlement and any discipline should be handled privately. It’s as simple as handling praise and reprimands most effectively.

Still More to Think About

Ask for ideas. You might hear a few ideas that are better than your own. It’s easier for others to get excited about their own ideas than to get excited about yours. Using ideas from your team will create a sense of purpose and involvement.

There’s a keen focus on empowerment and inclusion in today’s business. Executives are talking about collaboration too. It all goes together very well toward creating a collaborative environment where people’s ideas are welcome.

Be clear. Vagueness breeds confusion. Confusion saps enthusiasm. It is said ‘a confused mind says NO.’ Leaders need to create clarity.

When the objective and the necessary steps are clear, motivation is easier to generate. Ensure that everyone is clear on their roles.

Set a good example. If it’s important to you, it will be important to your employees, spouse, or children. Don’t just tell them it’s important, but show them by your behavior. Make the objective a priority in your own life.

Create a vision. Paint a picture of the end results in the minds of those involved. The work is not always enjoyable, but it’s the end result that matters. Then keep reminding everyone of how great things will be when it’s over. The work is the path to reach that endpoint.

Deal swiftly with dissenters. It only takes one dissenting, charismatic employee to bring the whole thing crashing down. There’s often one complainer that tries to undermine the enthusiasm of everyone else. Don’t underestimate the damage this one person can do. Have a heart-to-heart conversation with them or move them out of the group.

Play the Whole Game

Motivation isn’t just about adding positive energy. It’s also about removing obstacles. Dissenters are obstacles.

Encourage the sharing of opinions. However, once a decision has been made, expect cooperation.

Encourage others to do their best work or to follow their dreams. Motivating others is a skill that anyone can develop. You can only be as successful as your team. Avoid the belief that you can do it all alone. You can’t.

Great leaders inspire others to be overachievers. It’s a challenging task, but if you’re good at motivating others, you’ll always be one of the most important people around.

Top 10 Essential Leadership Skills

leadership banner

It’s all about skills in the modern world. It’s never been more challenging to be a leader than it is today. Markets and entire industries are changing rapidly. For any leader to be successful, it’s important to have the proper skills.

There are thousands of books describing good leadership. You can find lists of skills and attributes in most of those books. But if you want to be a good leader, you need to find a solid list and get busy embracing what it says. Many of the names and terms are interchangeable. So find a good list and run with it.

Many of these skills are evergreen. For example, leaders will always need to be able to communicate well and delegate tasks. Some are table stakes. Take heart that your leadership skills will be valuable for a long time!

Here is a good list to start with.

Shore up these 10 leadership skills and protect your future:

The ability to motivate others. Great leaders are great motivators. Think about how you motivate yourself. It’s not that much different to motivate someone else.

Communication skills. Leaders must be excellent communicators. This includes public speaking, addressing small groups, and one-on-one. Remember to practice good listening skills. Fortunately, educational materials abound and there are plenty of willing victims to practice your skills upon.

Delegation skills. You can’t do it all alone. Many high-achievers have trouble letting go and giving up control. You must be able to trust others and use them in the most effective way possible. It’s not enough to just delegate, you must delegate assignments to the those who will excel in that particular task.

Create the proper culture. Leaders must create a culture that matches the industry and the employees. A Wall Street investment bank has a different culture than an elementary school or a pharmaceutical company. Even departments may have their own unique culture.

Adaptability. The challenges facing leaders change regularly. Industries change. Customers change. Economic conditions change. Technology is rapidly changing the way organizations do business. Leaders have to be able to evolve to meet the changing landscape.

Still more leadership skills to consider

Time management. Leaders are busy. There’s always more to do than there are hours in the day. Choosing the most important tasks and making the time to complete them is paramount. Time management skills are easily learned, but don’t come naturally to many people.

Relationship management. Great leaders have strong relationships with their direct reports, hourly employees, executives, and customers. The stronger your relationships, the more you can accomplish. During great challenges, your relationships can make you or break you.

Change management. Leading an organization or department through change is a valuable skill to develop. As companies add technology and reduce workforces, change comes more rapidly.

Be a good follower. Leaders have to follow, too. Leaders that don’t follow are considered dictators. Once you inspire a team, they become largely self-sufficient. It is then your job to follow and provide occasional guidance.

Poise. Leaders face challenges. Poise is a necessary trait for a leader to possess. Without poise, small challenges become bigger, and employees lose faith. When you’re stressed and panicked, your employees are uncomfortable. Build your poise if you want to excel as a leader.

How do your skills measure up?

You can try to predict your success as a manager from this list of skills.

Leaders are much more than Managers. Good managers run processes. Leaders inspire people.

Build your leadership skills and your long-term results will be enhanced. Even with all the big changes in modern businesses, leadership skills continue to be highly valued in the workplace. Great leaders are always in high demand.

If you need help working to understand these or any other leadership skills, I can help.

I offer a free, no-obligation, no upsell exploratory call so you can share your needs. Then we can talk about ways to help. Just click Https://DougThorpe.com/chat

More Than a Sales Trick – What is WIIFM?

sales pitch

Many sales training programs teach a principle called WIIFM. Have you heard it? Know what it means?

It stands for “what’s in it for me?” The concept says a good salesperson must be prepared to answer that question on behalf of the prospect.

In other words, if I am the salesperson, it’s not about ME. It’s about my prospect. I’m supposed to get out of my own story and think about their story.

The prospect will ALWAYS be asking what’s in it for me? They don’t care how slick, smooth or smart you might be. (That helps for sure, but is not enough to win the deal.) You have to answer their questions using their terms AND their story.

It’s not your story.

It also applies to Leadership

I have discovered there is a similar powerful application of the WWIFM idea when coaching leadership development. Clients often ask, how can I be better at engaging my stakeholders or being able to influence ‘up’ the organization.

The answer? WIIFM.

Think about what’s in it for them. Why should they be listening to you? It’s not enough to try to impress people with your skills and knowledge.

You have to approach them on their wavelength, their mindset, using their standards for communicating. Some might call this “know your audience.” I like that too.

If you engage others using the WIIFM mindset, you can become more effective at delivering the value proposition you are responsible for executing.

Delivering Value

You see, we all go to work to create and deliver value. It might be tangible goods, services, or more academic thinking, but it’s incremental value being added to the overall value chain of your business. Otherwise, why should you be there?

If you’re not delivering value in some form or another, you are expendable. The faster you figure out how to demonstrate that value-add to your business partners and stakeholders, the better you will be.

So stop trying to be the resident expert pushing the cart up the hill. Rather think first about what that stakeholder really needs. Get them to share with you the key questions in their mind. While these questions help resolve the WIIFM for your stakeholder, you also need to explore how they engage.

Recently a client was telling me about one stakeholder who never responds to their internal instant messaging system. I asked if anyone else experienced that pushback from the stakeholder. Sure enough, others also complained this person never responded to IM. That’s a clear signal they don’t like that tool. How about an old-fashioned face-to-face?

In the process of learning your audience, ask them how they prefer to engage. In today’s fast-paced world of slick tech tools, there are so many options.

Do they like internal messaging systems, emails, or periodic face-to-face meetings? Figure out the most desired medium for them to receive information. Then stick to that answer.

Senior Execs Need More

The more senior the person you need to engage, the more likely is their sense of WIIFM. They are making split-second decisions about how to spend their minutes each day. If they can’t see a quick and obvious WIFFM answer, they will cut you off and send you away. It doesn’t matter how slick your PowerPoint was going to be.

Plus you should never take that kind of rejection personally. It’s just their way of subtly saying, “…you didn’t answer my WIIFM. Get me a better answer for that and I’ll engage.”

I had a mentor who taught me the phrase “Be bright, be brief, be gone.” The better I perfected that technique the more often I was getting asked to the senior executive floor for consultation. It was obvious I was doing a better job of answering WIIFM.

You can too.

Become a Better Leader: 4 Steps to Boost Your E.Q.

understanding eq

Most of us think of a leader as someone with a great deal of education and experience in a certain area. While knowledge and experience are important qualities, one’s ability to communicate and work well with others is just as important to being an effective leader.

A hot topic on the scene these days is Emotional Intelligence or E.Q. While research and numerous studies have proven the concept, understanding how to use it in your leadership toolkit is another story.

Having a high degree of emotional intelligence (E.Q.) allows you to be able to inspire and motivate others to co-operate with you to accomplish a shared objective and vision. There are several ways that you can strengthen your interpersonal skills.

Try these methods to dramatically raise your E.Q. and accomplish more together:

FIRST

Increase your self-awareness. Self-development is the foundation of excellence. Before you can lead and inspire others, you must first understand your own motivations and behavior.

  • Develop your vision by learning to listen to your inner values and dreams. Trust yourself. Try not to compromise your values to achieve a goal or for other temporary gain.
  • Embrace passion by learning to be motivated by your internal compass rather than external forces and situations.
  • Keep your energy fully recharged, so you can give your best effort. You can stay energized by taking the time to learn what activities re-energize you and which ones drain your energy.
  • Respect yourself. Know the limitations of your body, mind, and spirit and strive for balance between your responsibilities in all areas of your life.
  • Become aware of your flaws and limitations. Seek ways to improve yourself and be open to change.

Next

Strengthen your discipline and self-management. Learning to be responsible for your behavior, attitudes, and actions can raise your performance level as well as help you to build trust and authority with others. 

  • Seek the input of others. Ask how you can help them, or what you need to do differently to communicate more effectively and manage them better.
  • Hold yourself accountable for your actions and performance.
  • Don’t be afraid to delegate responsibilities and tasks. Be confident enough in yourself to surround yourself with talented, qualified people.

Then

Develop your social awareness. Be aware of your own attitudes and the power you have to motivate others.

  • Show genuine concern for others and learn how to actively listen. Doing so will create lasting bonds and a strong team that will work with you rather than against you.
  • Give others a reason to support you and your vision. Let others know when they have done a good job and look for ways to openly recognize and reward excellence.
  • Help others to buy into your vision by making them stakeholders in the attainment of your goals. Seek their advice when setting goals and making plans on how you’ll achieve them.
  • Help others to increase their abilities and fully utilize their talents by providing opportunities for training, scholarship, and self-development.

Finally

Emphasize greater relationship management. Learn how to bring out the best in yourself and others. Utilize everyone’s best qualities and minimize their limitations with effective assignment of tasks and delegation of responsibilities.

Regardless of your education or experience, you can achieve greater success by learning how to use your people skills to fully harness the talents and energy of others. These strategies will allow you to increase your E.Q and inspire others to fully enlist in your cause of their own free will.

Real Leaders Don’t Lose the ‘Person’ in Personality

Whether you own a business or run one for a bigger company, your role as manager/leader is in the spotlight. When people start searching for leadership development tools or management training, you often run into a large segment of the market focused on Personality.

The logic says ‘if I understand my personality, and the personalities of those around me, I can be better leader. Why? Because I can learn to meet them where they are, etc.’

Logic like that is like a 3-year strategic plan. It looks great on paper, it’s a cool workshop to sit in, but what do you really do with the information? Too often it gets implemented poorly and soon forgotten. (I happen to hold a strong bias on the use of common personality tools. Email me and I’ll share that discussion.)

For now I want to challenge you to think about something else.

What’s at the Core

Throughout my coaching career I have often found executives and business owners who struggle with their personality defining the person they think they need to be. Or vice versa. The person they believe they are does not show up when the work gets going. Instead, some different personality appears.

My challenge to you is to consider separating your thinking about the person you want to be from the personality that actually shows up.

Getting a solid grip on the person you want to be has nothing to do with title, role, and financial status. But it has everything to do with the kind of friend, neighbor, and fellow human being you believe you are. It’s about core values, principles, and beliefs. Most leaders, when asked, have a good list defining those things in their personhood.

And, ok, I’m going to say it….

There are some solid jerks in the world (keeping it PG-13). For me, the good news is, I just don’t get many of those folks reading my articles or asking me for coaching. And I’ll never take one as a client.

Instead, I talk with people who are already successful at some level and they want to do more, be more.

The Derailers

First, let’s talk about some common contributors for why personality may interrupt personhood. In the Hogan world we call these ‘derailers.’

One issue that appears most often is the idea that a strength used in excess becomes a derailer. For example, if you are naturally empathetic, you might not drive your team hard enough. Your personality shows up ‘friendly’ and well-intended, but when the going gets tough, people want direction and drive from their boss.

Next, you might be covering something. I don’t mean in a criminal way, but rather in a defensive way. If you are uncertain about a subject, your personality may be too comical, trying to laugh off the tension in the moment. This usually shows up as the boss who cracks jokes at inappropriate times, taking serious discussions off track.

Also, people with highly focused technical ability may come across as too robotic, not enough ‘people’ skill when interacting. Their personality is plastic. Yet when you peel the onion, you find a wonderfully motivated mind wanting to do great things.

The Options

While doing a ‘post-game interview’ wondering what went wrong with a particular situation, you likely may be thinking “I know what I wanted to say or do, but somehow it never came out that way.”

If that is you, then you, my friend, may be suffering from the conflict between person and personality.

First, doing the post-mortem on a meeting or a one-on-one interview can help tremendously to isolate the areas where you are disconnecting person and personality. Do your own analysis.

If it is possible, ask for feedback. Ask for specifics like “When I said ‘X’, how did that strike you?” When you think your personality usurped your personhood, then you have an opportunity to fix it.

When feedback highlights specific gaps, check first to see if the gap is properly covered by those core beliefs and key principles you claim. Not the other way around. Then search for reasons your personality may have thrown up a different solution in the moment. Here are some of those situations.

  • You cracked a joke when you should be serious.
  • You got technical when empathy would have been better.
  • You quoted company policy when a warmer more collaborative idea could have been put to play.
  • You genuinely love your team, but you go to performance issues too often when talking to them.

Ask a mentor or a coach to help you make the distinction between the person you believe you are and the personality that often shows up instead.

Don’t lose the person in personality.

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How We Work – Perfect vs Imperfect

wabi sabi

There is a struggle in modern business. As people show up for work, there is a tension between forces that push us to be perfect in what we achieve, yet we know in our hearts and minds we are imperfect in many ways. And the work goes on.

We add more hours to the day to meet that deadline or deliver the project. We agonize over the work in front of us. We shape our words and stories to present the image that a perfect outcome is on its way, ‘almost there.’

Then, when the work is delivered, there is a nagging sense that we could have done more.

Explore the Source

First let’s explore where this voice comes from; the voice demanding perfection.

For many it comes from childhood memories (or nightmares) pressed into the psyche by that third-grade teacher or gym coach or, sadly, a parent who demanded ‘better.’ I’m not talking about the loving mentor who encouraged us, but rather the mean-spirited ogre who said hurtful things. Even with many years between their angry words and your own revelation of real truths, the messages that are remembered from these horrible souls shape our sense of what we need to accomplish.

Teacher complaining about schoolboy in elementary school class.

Another source of expectation comes from the bad boss who sets unrealistic demands for the team. They plot goals and standards that look like perfection, but usually won’t stand up to objective scrutiny. Unfortunately, too many workers buckle under these bosses. Instead of pushing back, you go to work and try to deliver.

Team or organizational culture can impact this too. On occasion I run into a work environment that demands 100% of the information be covered in an analysis before making a decision. There might even be punitive personnel assessments written for those who fail to hit the 100% mark.

Lastly, your own definition of perfection can be a force. I often encounter clients who have the perfectionistic personality. It torments them and drives those around them crazy. The interesting contradiction in this personality is that they usually don’t get enough done at all because they fear the work not being perfect, so they never start.

Here’s a Fresh Idea

Wabi sabi is a Japanese design concept. It means beauty in that which is temporary or imperfect. Things that come off of an assembly line, for example, are perfect, but things made by hand, like the glaze on a Japanese ceramic bowl, are imperfect. It is their imperfections that give them their beauty. (see the cover picture)

The same is true for people. It is the combination of all of our imperfections that make us vulnerable and beautiful.

If you are a leader, have you thought about applying the wabi-sabi mindset as a metaphor for the work you do? If you let your view of things shift to embrace the idea of life as a journey. Give yourself and those who work for you the grace to believe we are all working to become better versions of ourselves. The idea of a “work in progress” can become a great strategy for the work you do.

You can implement a system for constant improvement rather than always chasing perfection. As I write that last phrase it almost seems redundant and contradictory at the same time. ‘If I am working on constant improvement aren’t I seeking perfection?’

I argue NO. Perfection comes with the moment by moment, project by project expectation of scoring 100. Even college grads with a 4.0-grade point average (considered ‘perfect’ by most systems) don’t have to score 100 on every exam.

However, constant improvement is about learning from prior experience to make small adjustments or tweaks in what you are doing so that the next body of work can be a little better; not perfect, but better.

Closing Remarks

I know there will be readers who say ‘you don’t get it. If I don’t do perfect work, I’ll lose my job.’ My question is first to define exactly what ‘perfect’ is supposed to mean. There is an old saying:

Perfect is the enemy of good.

I’ve seen big corporations miss an entire market shift that could have earned them millions of dollars because their effort to analyze the situation took too long. Why?

Because they were working on the perfect analysis, covering 100% of the angles. In hindsight, an analysis that only addressed 50% or 70% could have given them enough validation to go forward. The extra effort to fill out the remaining margin to get to 100% didn’t add value. It actually cost them the opportunity.

Adopt wabi-sabi. There is beauty in imperfection if you just decide to look at it differently.

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Leave It Better Than You Found It

hiking and camping

Many years ago, when I was a boy Scout, my Scoutmaster had a mantra. Wherever we went camping, we were supposed to leave the surroundings better than we found it. That meant that before we left the area, we had to do a thorough cleanup, pick-up, and canvas of the area.

If there were rocks lining the paths, every rock had to be properly in line whether we had disrupted them or not. If there were trash cans in the area, each one had to have the lid properly secured. Any litter that was found had to be picked up, again whether we had created or not. As we left, we even brushed the pathways behind us, erasing our footprints in the dirt. A little extreme? Perhaps. But the teaching stuck.

Later, as I apprenticed with a master woodworker/craftsman, he too had a similar mantra about borrowing tools and equipment. If he borrowed something from someone, it had to be returned in better condition than it was first received. That meant cleaned, lubricated, polished or dusted off. This too was a further reminder of the basic teaching. The mindset got fixed in my brain.

tools in a box in a garage for repair work

We don’t hear that principle shared much anymore these days. Yet there is so much that can be learned from it. The concept applies to leadership in its highest form.

If you are selected to lead a team or organization, why not leave it better than you received it? Leaders are supposed to accomplish things, right? But what about truly trying to leave things better off than they were before you started.

Before we get into more details, there’s one other key element here we should discuss. If you know you’re going to be doing a big clean-up at the end, you are more likely to take care of things during the stay rather than have to do a big bunch of work at the end.

The same is true about leadership dedicated to this kind of mantra. Do little things daily to create the end result that is better than before. That way you don’t have to make a big push at the end to accomplish the same result.

The Leadership Influence

Choosing to apply this ‘leave it better than before’ principle to your leadership mindset will build a lasting legacy with those around you. If you become the leader that strives to make everything better, you will create a memorable impression that won’t go away.

Sadly, the opposite is equally true. How many of us have worked for bosses who left scorched earth behind their reign? You were happy to see them leave.

But the boss or mentor who looked out for your well being and helped you grow in your career or skill set will long be remembered.

Ways to Leave It Better

What are the ways a leader can make things better? Here are a few I’ve benefitted from.

First, genuinely learn who your people are and what they know how to do. Get into the details of their experience and skill set. Let them know you care about their ability to contribute. If you see gaps, encourage them to grow. Give them tips and ideas on ways to expand their tool kit of abilities.

Be a mentor. Be ready and willing to come alongside your people to show them ways to grow.

Help people with networking inside and outside. This is a tricky one. In today’s complex business world, people are feeling overwhelmed with knowing they need to be able to network more, but they are either afraid of doing it or don’t know how.

Stop solving all the problems. Nurture the growth in your team by using key questions when they bring you problems. Encourage them to propose a solution to every problem before they merely lay the problem on your desk. Then share with them the logical process you use to get to a good answer.

Model the right behaviors. Whenever and wherever you show up as a leader, people are watching. Even the most subtle behaviors can become big influencers for those who are following you.

You likely will never win 100% of the time. Accept the 84% rule. A local Texas politician shared this one with me. He had won his election for Mayor by an 84% popular vote. While that is huge by today’s standard for electoral margin, he decided to not alienate the 16% that didn’t vote for him. Instead he started to earnestly reach out to them and include their views in decisions facing the city.

Give people some slack or you might call it grace. People will make mistakes. The way you as a leader respond to those moments is what will make the difference.

Decide to break old habits. If the bosses you worked for modeled bad habits, don’t let those be yours to keep. A company’s culture evolves in time. The patterns of employee/employer relationships are what really define a culture, not some poster on the wall.

Handing it down

The Conclusion

I once coached a senior executive who was responsible for a national network of high-dollar manufacturing facilities. There was big machinery operating under high pressure with potentially toxic environments. People could get hurt or killed. In the day when he was rising up the organization, being a site manager and having to report a problem to the big boss meant getting a chewing out before you got to talk about the details. It was automatic.

I asked this exec about that dynamic. He sheepishly admitted he tended to do the same thing to his people. I asked if it made any difference. He said no. He knew they felt bad and were already dealing with the disappointment. His adding to the dogpile didn’t help. So he agreed to stop doing that.

Things still happened in the plants, but the team culture changed. Site managers realized the big boss was there for them, not a voice to condemn what had happened. They needed his wisdom to orchestrate the resolution. He began focusing on administering those coaching and mentoring moments to help them grow rather than berating and belittling them.

His decision as a leader to show up differently, and make things better than before, broke a legacy of old-school management practice that had lived for decades. In one turn in the leader’s seat, he engrained a newer, more positive mindset in the hearts of the various site managers who would one day be the big boss themselves.

That, my friend, is how you can make a difference, leaving things better than they were before you got there.

Daniel Mueller on Leadership

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From time to time, anyone working as a manager needs to decide whether they really are a leader. Several years ago, I began an association with a long-time executive coach, Daniel Mueller. He’s a pioneer in the field of executive coaching having served senior executives across most of the Fortune 500 companies. Daniel has graciously shared some of his information with me. Here is a discussion about leadership.

Change Agents

A leader, by definition, is a change agent. Leaders have the ability to look beyond the status quo, determine the change needed, and introduce it in such a way that the organization successfully grows to the next level of effectiveness.

“Leadership . . . is the ability to step outside the culture to start evolutionary change processes that are more adaptive” (Schein, 1992).

Effective leaders are competent in gaining and maintaining followers. They communicate at an expert level, inspiring others to go in a certain direction while setting clear expectations of high-level roles and responsibilities. Leaders ensure that all employees understand the mission, vision, values, strategy, and overall direction of the company, along with their own area of responsibility.

They over-communicate, gain buy-in to key initiatives, and obtain strong commitment to achieving the organization’s mission. Developing and communicating the organization’s vision, philosophy, and values is an essential competency of effective leaders, who also model the right values by example, thereby gaining credibility and respect from others.

“Leadership is about articulating visions, embodying values, and creating the environment within which things can be accomplished” (Richards & Engle, 1986).

Developing Leadership Competentcy

Both nature and nurture play a role in developing excellent leadership competencies. It’s helpful, but not essential, to be born with the genetic predisposition toward leadership.

Nevertheless, leadership competencies can be cultivated and developed. Factors positively associated with the development of leaders include having at least one parent who is a leader; being the eldest child; taking opportunities to lead peers or siblings; having influential childhood role models (e.g., family members, coaches, mentors); holding leadership roles in high school, college, graduate school, or early in a career; taking leadership training programs; and undergoing leadership coaching.

It is useful for leaders to take regular behavioral assessments and to review their self-assessment reports with others who know them well. A spouse or significant other is a good place to start. This review may serve to further validate the report, as well as to remove blind spots that the leader may have.

Deciding on a Style

People tend to prefer their own styles, with a strong propensity to view the world through the filter of their behavioral styles, thus projecting those preferences onto others.

This tendency limits the ability to understand co-workers and others to the fullest extent possible. It is easy to see how this can lead to frustration with others’ behavior, which leads in turn to difficulty in developing high-performance teams.

Through the process of understanding their own leadership styles and being able to identify and understand those of others, effective leaders become more accepting of others’ styles, and others become more accepting of theirs. Each leadership style is valuable in the workplace.

People with the same narrow behavioral style will approach a problem in the same way, usually with sub-optimal results. A leadership team that encompasses a diversity of styles provides a diversity of thought, which leads to peak team performance. Leaders who understand their own behavioral styles are much better able to identify others’ styles.

As leaders grow in their understanding of, and their ability to control, their own styles, they may become more willing and able to adapt their styles to meet the needs of others and of the organization.

Being Adaptable

Demonstrated adaptability is a powerful approach, resulting in increased influence over others. In order to reach full effectiveness, leaders need maximum adaptability. An inaccurate understanding of their own behavioral tendencies will weaken the ability of leaders to effectively adapt their styles to the needs of others.

Effective leaders are able to develop or improve positive relationships in much less time than would normally be needed. Most effective leaders are unconsciously or consciously adept at identifying and adapting their leadership styles to the behavioral styles of the people with whom they work. The leadership quadrant comprises anything related to influencing people.