It's a fair question. People are promoted into leadership roles every day who have no business being there.
The reason I asked the question is because the bar for leading people as human beings--inspiring them to new heights and engaging their hearts and minds to produce excellent work--is really high, and not every boss has the capacity to do it.
In the end, you'll find the leadership journey is predicated on two things that drive success: results and relationships. You can't have results at the expense of people.
Here are four things you'll need to improve upon as a leader in order to raise your own bar.
1. Receive feedback regularly.
Harold MacDowell, CEO of TDIndustries, a leading mechanical construction and facilities service company in Dallas, continues to deepen his company's commitment to its servant leadership culture with an open and inclusive environment, where communication travels in all directions.
MacDowell has set up formal and informal mechanisms to get important feedback, encourage new ideas, and learn from each other's perspectives as valued contributors.
This a practice started by founder Jack Lowe, Sr. over 45 years ago. Lowe used to invite groups of employees to his home for spaghetti dinners to listen. Now, MacDowell makes sure that all of his senior leaders have similar feedback sessions at least quarterly--to listen deeply, keep communication channels open, and sustain their culture of collaboration and inclusion.
2. Also give feedback regularly.
Perhaps not as challenging as being in the vulnerable position of receiving feedback is the equally important core principle of giving feedback to address performance issues, clarify direction, or set expectations on critical tasks or strategy. Here are six techniques to practice regularly:
- Keep it simple and avoid information overload.
- Approach the other person directly.
- Be specific and use examples.
- Describe the behavior you would prefer; focus on the issue, not the person.
- Check for receptivity and understanding so both parties are on the same page. Does what the employee heard match the feedback given? If not, clarify.
- Remain open for discussions.
3. Share your power.
Because great leaders strive to have real relationships built on two-way trust--instead of leveraging their positional power for personal gain, self-promotion, or demands for special privileges--they share their power by putting people in positions of leadership to stretch their growth.
Not every leader, however, is created equal. Whenever I share this leadership practice in my speaking engagements, faces in the room flinch! Sharing power and decision making is only reserved for leaders with a firm belief of first serving the needs of others in order to make them better.
Here's the clincher: When leaders share power and release positional control, they actually gain real power. Why? Because by doing so, they unleash discretionary effort across the enterprise. People will go above and beyond their job descriptions and willingly contribute at a higher level to a shared cause.
4. Increase love, decrease fear.
Did I just say "increase love"? You read that right. The most inspiring leaders are successful (and their companies profitable) because they practice "love in action." What does that mean in the context of work?
I'll bring in my colleague Renée Smith, director of workplace transformation at Results Washington, Office of the Governor, and founder of A Human Workplace, for a better perspective. Smith writes in a recent blog:
In the space created by the shock of the word love, I ask people to reflect on our shared human experiences with threats that create fear and with love that creates safety. Threat conditions that induce fear can take the form of indifference, rejection, harassment, belittling, uncertainty, betrayal, and isolation. Love can look like trust, belonging, care, respect, inclusion, empathy, compassion, and forgiveness. We have common biological, neuro-physiological, and psychological fear responses to threats and safety responses to love.
If you're nodding your head yes to having felt validated as a human worker through the loving behaviors of empathy, respect, and inclusion, I'm going to wager that you've probably also experienced more safety, better collaboration, and higher performance.
And for residents of the C-Suite eye-balling their profit margins...it also gets results! Plain and simple, "love in action" practically demonstrated by human leaders will create the optimal work environment for great human and business outcomes.