A manager's credibility rises or falls on the basis of whether or not they take care of their people. It's built up through the time they invest in their employees and the connections they form. I don't have research to base this off of nor a preeminent company's testimony to prove my point. All I know, as an employee, is that the managers I'd sacrifice anything for are the ones I feel would do the same for me. They are the ones that always have my back and in turn, inspire exceptional performance through their leadership.
If I had to describe it in a few words, I would say that the best leaders show a little love.
Now obviously the mushy-feely, nostalgic type of love is not what I'm referring to in this situation. Instead, I'm referring to the side-effects that come with putting others' interests before your own, nurturing your relationships, and practicing selflessness.
So how do you gauge your aptitude when it comes to these three leadership traits? Below are five questions that will help:
1. Do you take the initiative to serve others?
It's easy to obtain a management position and forget the importance of servant leadership. It's counterintuitive, but leaders who want to gain credibility actually have to relinquish control and share their power. They need to flip the org chart on its head and empower their employees to take ownership. Doing so helps unlock their full potential and increases engagement.
However, this doesn't mean that your work is done once you delegate. It's crucial for managers to continue to serve their employees through providing perpetual support and guidance.
Simon Sinek, the author of Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't, described it this way:
"The true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest."
2. Are you flexible and view interruptions as opportunities?
I'm a socially-oriented person and do my best thinking when collaborating with other people. When it comes to problem-solving, my preferred method of rationalizing is throwing conceptual ideas out there and honing them with my manager's feedback.
The issue with this work style is that it lends itself to frequent "drive-bys" which can be exhausting for managers. I know this not because they've told me directly, but because I could see it written all over their faces.
Although these "visits" need to be kept in check, it's also a great reminder for managers that everyone has a different communication style. Whether it's an email, text, or coffee request, it's important that employees feel safe and comfortable coming to you with questions (within reason).
Showing even a single sign of frustration or annoyance will discourage employees from coming to you for guidance.
3. Are you a cheerful giver?
Anyone growing up with siblings or best friends remembers a time when they gave you something only to hold it over your head later. In my household, it was usually me making my sister feel guilty so that she wouldn't rat me out to my parents. "Hey, remember the time when I did (insert something nice), you owe me."
Unfortunately, many managers unintentionally burden employees because they feel like every single "favor" has to be reciprocated.
Selfless leaders give enthusiastically without expecting anything in return.
4. Do you use your words to encourage rather than criticize?
Managers have to understand the weight that their words carry. The saying that "it's not personal, it's just business" isn't reality. If you plant words of doubt by being overly critical, then don't be surprised when employees grow to be insecure. Managers reap what they sow.
Instead, provide future focused feedback, instill a growth mindset and make sure your employees feel like you're in it together.
5. Do you balance speaking with listening?
This quote from Steve R. Covey is so true: "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." As an employee, it's very easy to tell when a manager isn't paying attention or worse when they interrupt with unhelpful information.
Be mindful to fully concentrate on what is being said rather than passive hearing what employees are saying. Also, they don't let prior biases impact what you hear.
Kindness and genuine care for employees are not typical traits found in the workplace, but maybe they should be. According to Wharton management professor Sigal Barsade and Olivia "Mandy" O'Neill, assistant professor of management at George Mason University, their 16-month longitudinal study showed "a culture of companionate love led to higher levels of employee engagement with their work via greater teamwork and employee satisfaction."