Good leadership doesn't come attached to a certain personality type, and it's not something you can learn exclusively from a book. But by cultivating certain habits, anyone can be an effective leader in the workplace--provided they have the determination and patience to do so. When honed over time, these three practices will help you inspire more trust, loyalty, and productivity in your employees.
1. Regular interaction with direct reports
As a business leader, it's vitally important that you constantly communicate with the employees who report to you. You are ultimately responsible for all the work done and supervised by direct reports, which means you should regularly meet and interact with them to ensure you're always up to date on projects and initiatives.
This consistent communication should not be confused with micromanagement--it has to benefit your employees as much as it benefits you. Just as the people you manage communicate to you what work looks like on their level, it's your responsibility to communicate to them where things are headed on the management level. Employees who feel directly connected to the company's overall direction will more consistently align their goals and strategies with those of the business.
Check-ins with direct reports should be operationalized as much as possible, and the most efficient way to do so is by setting up weekly meetings. While it's still important to meet before kicking off an important campaign or initiative, you also need a simple, unobtrusive way of gaining visibility into those projects as they develop, not just in the weeks or days before they launch.
Establishing regular contact in the workplace will help you maintain influence over day-to-day operations, rather than take it for granted that everything is moving in the right direction.
2. Respect for the company's time
Arriving late to the office or a meeting may seem like a small mistake, but for a business leader it can have major consequences. No matter the size of your company, employees will always take their cues from their manager's behavior and attitude.
This rule applies to many aspects of professional behavior. If you're consistently late for work, fail to take others' ideas or concerns seriously, or dress in a sloppy or unprofessional manner, your employees will quickly take note of the example you're setting. While some leaders believe that they're above the law, the reality is quite the opposite. Your job is to enforce the rules that keep the company and its culture strong--how can you expect to do that if you don't follow those rules yourself?
Respect for the rules is especially important when it comes to company time. When you show up late to a meeting, you're teaching employees that you don't value their time and, therefore, the work they could be doing with it. Once employees get the sense that their productivity is anything less than crucial to the company, the work environment can quickly become toxic.
3. Leading with transparency
Whenever possible, share what you're thinking, avoid keeping secrets, and keep direct reports aware of the direction in which the company is heading. A leader must always practice an appropriate amount of privacy and discretion, but the more information you trust your employees with, the more trust they'll put in you.
Transparency strengthens relationships with employees, because it shows that you're only human--that you face challenges just like they do and that you don't have all the answers. It's easy for employees to feel indifferent or even resentful toward their boss when she sits behind a closed door all day and communicates only in directives. When you keep employees updated on what you're going through each day, they begin to see you as someone they can look up to, rather than just as an authority figure they have to work with.
This can be difficult if you're in the top tiers of management, and especially if your company has hundreds or thousands of employees. Bigger organizations tend to have more trouble with communication--a 2013 survey of federal government employees found that more than half of respondents weren't getting enough information about the organization at large. Maintaining transparency about individual expectations for everyone will take a bit of creativity.
I've crafted my own solution to this problem: I regularly invite three or four employees from throughout the company to come to my office and ask me anything they want, whether it's about finances, the goals of their particular division, or a new competitor.
These conversations keep me connected to all of our employees, not just direct reports. By showing that I'm not walled off from the rest of the company as a member of senior management, I hope to inspire my employees' confidence not only in me as a leader but in the company as a whole.