Whenever I'm asked about the top characteristic that separates real leaders from the "wannabe's," I don't mince words. It's empirically and anecdotally evident that this prerequisite must be earned before claiming the title of "leader." Yet most bosses that don't deserve the title will cringe at the thought...
You must value your people.
I have seen plenty of the reverse scenario, where even top performers who love what they do will eventually lose hope and toss in the towel because they were not valued as human beings. (more on how to value workers below)
They work for bosses that play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the back. When it comes to the well-being of their teams, these bosses either don't care, don't know how to care, or at some point stopped caring.
In essence, it's the person in charge who thinks anyone is replaceable, and sees employees as "cogs" rather than worthy colleagues to be treated like business partners in producing results. The utter lack of appreciation, recognition, and direction takes a huge toll, and as the saying goes, your best people end up leaving their managers, not their jobs.
On the flip side, remarkable leaders that value their employees even go to the extent of banning the word "employee" from corporate speak. Take Steve DiFillippo, Chef & CEO of Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse and author of It's All About the Guest. He got recent global press for prohibiting the use of the word at his chain of restaurants. He explains the reasoning on BBC:
"I think 'employee' is an awful word. Who wants to be an employee? It just isn't something you strive toward. A lot of servers and cooks go from restaurant to restaurant trying to find their way; we stop that. They come here and realize they're in a different place where they'll be treated differently."
When people come to work for Davio's, they are immediately valued and cast in a positive light by inheriting the distinguished label of "inner guests."
As DiFillippo further explains, banning the word is both a way of empowering his "inner guests" and explaining the company's core values to its 'outer guests' (the diners).
How to Value Your Own 'Inner Guests'
To reverse the message going out to your employ...er, inner guests, that they may not feel valued, an important shift needs to happen in a leader's heart and mind. It's arriving at a point -- instinctively, on a visceral level -- where you fully recognize that love (as an action verb) is a powerful and relevant business habit to be leveraged for competitive advantage, in a way that engages people on an emotional level to perform at the highest level.
The mere mention of the "L" word, however, and people begin to cringe at the thought of being forced to hold hands with their staff and sway to the strains of Kumbaya.
If that's where you're headed, you're missing the point. Love, in this case, is the highest order of a true leader: someone who consciously chooses to serve and value their "inner guests" by putting their needs ahead of his or her own.
There are countless practical ways you can value your employees for strategic business outcomes (some practiced by the world's most successful CEOs). Here are 4 of my favorite.
1. Invest in your people with development and mentoring opportunities.
Great leaders show an interest in their people's jobs and career aspirations. They carve out career paths for them and look into the future to create learning and development opportunities. They find out what motivates their best people by getting to know each tribe member's desires that will drive them. This is about emotional engagement; it's about love.
2. Create an environment of trust where risks are taken.
You want a productive workplace? Allow for people to feel safe enough to experiment, to exercise their creativity and strengths, and to offer input. In a community of valued "inner guests," it's safe to disagree and give the manager the benefit of the doubt because fear has been pumped out of the room in exchange for love where many voices are heard. And managers will care enough for their "inner guests" for this to happen. In turn, those "inner guests" will feel safe to communicate ideas openly, provide input to major decisions without reprimand because there's trust there.
3. Respect others.
Cheryl Bachelder, former CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, writes in her now-classic book, Dare to Serve, that one of the keys to her leadership culture of success was a conscious decision to create a new workplace (with rigorous measures in place) where people were treated with respect and dignity, yet challenged to perform at the highest level. As a result of loving well, silos were broken, managers began to listen, and collaboration increased because workers and restaurant franchisees were valued.
4. Listen more and talk less.
Great leaders are unassuming and know what they think; they want to know what their valued workers think by listening intently. Practically speaking, this forgotten form of love at work allows "inner guests" the freedom to be part of the conversation. Such leaders will ask curious questions, lots of questions: how something is done, what you like about it, what you learned from it, and what you need in order to be better. Leaders with loyal followers realize they know a lot, and seek to know even more by listening because they value and, yes, love their people.