A leader’s ultimate challenges are building a team intently focused on delivering exceptional results and delivering real, recognizable value for customers and shareholders while creating and sustaining a culture that values people and rewards results.
The common thread between these goals is a true commitment to building relationships and connecting with and developing people. To help you infuse this commitment into your actions and your organization, I’ve developed seven guidelines. These are rules to live by. Practicing them with everyone on your team is essential to earning the respect of your team. If they believe in you as a connected leader, they will trust you, respect you, perform excellently, and have the right attitude to work hard for improvement.
- Listen without judging. Encourage open and honest feedback between yourself and all of your people. Determine what they want to get out of the job: What are their goals? What do they need? What obstacles are they facing? Approach each topic or concern by really listening with your heart, without judgment. You must encourage your people to share their needs, dreams, and obstacles with you. You need open, honest discussion and feedback to help them achieve excellence.
- Empathize and show compassion. Spend time with each of your people and find out what is happening in their lives, not only at work but in their personal lives as well. Empathy is the ability to actually feel the pain or joy of another person. Empathy helps you understand someone else’s position, and it’s the first step to showing compassion. I see compassion as “the commitment to connect with passion.”Whenever your employees make the effort to share feelings, concerns, suggestions, or constructive criticism, you need to show you care. By taking a true interest in your staff, you will relay to them that your company cares not only about its bottom line but also about each individual working there.
- Be authentic. Reflect often on your goals for people, making sure they come from your heartfelt desire to improve your employees’ skills and their lives. Understand that people need to feel challenged and believe that their work adds value.By respecting your employees as people (and not simply as a means to increase revenue), you will gain their respect. They will genuinely work harder because they believe in the work that they are doing and in you as a leader. This can absolutely be compatible with your desire to improve results.
- Give honest feedback. You need to always be fair and polite, looking first to be a “good finder.” This means searching for the good in people and recognizing it out loud. Show them what they are doing well and give them some suggestions about how they can improve. Then follow up. Commend them or taking your advice. If they are still falling short, point out the problem and ask them to come up with a solution. When you put the ball in their court, they will realize you trust them and value their opinions, and consequently they will work harder to maintain that trust. When you must be critical, check your motives and test yourself for fairness.Remember Rule 2: Empathize and show compassion when providing constructive criticism. Any corrective feedback carries an emotional charge, so the way it is delivered is as important as the accuracy and fairness of the critique itself.
- Share your knowledge and vision. Help your people understand the overall strategic goal for your company and how each of their individual roles helps to achieve this vision. Be sure they understand your industry, and educate them on issues, changes, and advances in the industry as well. Not only will your people appreciate you taking the time to educate them, they will also have a better understanding why and when you have to make difficult decisions. They will also be able to make better judgments and decisions if they have all of the information they need. Tell your people what you seehappening in your organization and your industry. They will appreciate it, feel valued, and gain confidence in you and the organization.
- Provide training. Determine what skills and expertise each employee currently has, and then compare them to the skills and attributes needed to excel in the role. Provide specifically tailored training programs to help move your people toward maximizing their potential. When someone is great at what he does, he is more likely to enjoy it and be actively engaged. This will have a direct effect on productivity, the service your team provides to internal and external customers, and ultimately your bottom line. But you must personally analyze individual needs and follow through with specific training to address those needs.
- Consult and plan. In addition to having a vision for your company, you need to have a people plan for the future. While you may have a plan for the business, do you have a personal development plan for each employee? You should. Every person on your team needs to have a specific development plan in place. You then need to get involved in their efforts toward achieving their goals and dreams. Get frequent input from each employee, and continually evolve these plans to better meet their needs. Let them know how you want to expand, what new markets you want to tap, and how you see them growing with you. They will work harder when they see potential for both their own growth and the expansive possibilities of the company.
These guidelines all feed and reinforce your effectiveness as the leader in your people development culture. You can expect your people to be honest, constructive, and empathetic only if you model all these important skills in your own actions. Where you place your focus is where your team will place its focus.
You will need to be persistent, determined, and involved, particularly if this type of culture is far removed from the current culture in your organization. But the hard work will be worth the effort. Forming a culture around developing people will indirectly drive your business results and create a trustful environment. In my experience, following these seven rules and building a culture of development will result in a serious boost in morale, motivation, retention of valuable employees, and bottom-line results. These gains won’t happen overnight, but if you consistently drive this culture change, you will see the benefits sooner than you imagine.