Coach and consultant Bill Treasurer has been teaching leadership development and studying leadership models for 20 years. But he says he learned a valuable lesson when his five-year-old son came home from school and announced he'd been chosen class leader for the day.
"What did you get to do as class leader?" his father asked.
"I got to open doors for people!"
With those seven words, Treasurer says, his son captured the essence of what separates a good leader from everyone else. "Think of any leader who's had an impact on your life--not someone on the world stage, but someone you've worked with," he says. "It's likely the reason they had an impact is that they believed in your potential and held you accountable till you lived up to it. Leaders create opportunities for the people they lead, and give them a proving ground."
His favorite example? Johnny Carson. Though Carson could book anyone he wanted on The Tonight Show, he delighted in giving talented comics who were relatively unknown a shot at the big time. Jerry Seinfeld, David Letterman, and Ellen DeGeneres, among many others, got their start there.
Want to follow in Carson's footsteps and become a door-opening leader? Treasurer explains how in his new book Leaders Open Doors. Here's a look at some things the best leaders do:
1. They ask: 'What do you want?'
"A lot of times, business owners get fixated on results," Treasurer says. "Which is fine--results are essential. But you won't get those results if you don't focus on people." That's why, in addition to letting employees know clearly what's expected of them and what you hope to achieve, you should also ask about their hopes and goals. "Turn it around and ask, 'What do you want from me? What made you want to join this organization?'" Treasurer says.
2. They provide support as well as challenges.
"You can't just dump a new opportunity in their lap and say, 'Go get it!'" Treasurer says. Instead, he advises saying something like this: "I know this is a big opportunity, and it comes with a risk of failure. If you run into challenges, come to me and we'll figure out how to remove them. If you meet resistance from other employees, come to me and I'll support you."
And, he says, if the new opportunity means the employee must do something he or she has never done before, make sure to provide any necessary training as well. "It's not enough to just give someone the opportunity to grow. Your support has to be very active."
3. They inspire, rather than scare.
A lot of leaders routinely say that one concern or another "keeps me up at night." They want to convey their greatest fears, hoping employees will take these issues seriously. "You're trying to share those anxieties because you think if you can get everyone else awake at night worrying about them, you'll sleep more soundly," Treasurer says.
The problem is there's ample evidence that frightened employees aren't doing their best work. "One study showed that employees with bosses who motivate them through fear are twice as likely to take sick days when they aren't sick, and three times as likely to suffer from sleep disorders," Treasurer says.
Instead, he suggests, "Talk about what gets you up in the morning. What makes you happy to come to work? What goals do you aspire to reach?"
4. They let their true selves show.
"Employees have one important question in their minds before they give you their loyalty and engagement: 'Do you care about me?'" Treasurer says. It's important to demonstrate that you do care, for instance, by asking about their families and home life as well as what's happening on the job. But just as important, he advises, "Occasionally, reveal who you really are."
Letting your human side show is a powerful way to create a connection with employees, Treasurer says, as he learned when he was an employee himself. One of his early bosses came from a military background which was reflected in his personal style at work. Treasurer found him off-putting. Then one day they shared a two-hour car trip and the boss put on some music. Creedence Clearwater Revival's Run Through the Jungle came on, and the boss began talking about his experience during the Vietnam war. Seeing that human side of his boss "made me less judgmental and more loyal," Treasurer says.