Any truly great leader will tell you that leadership involves the head and the heart. You can be the smartest person in the room every time, but if you don't know how to connect with people, their emotions, and what's important to them, you won't be leading anyone anywhere anytime soon.
Through my one-on-one leadership coaching business, I've developed seven introspective questions that leaders can ask themselves. Considering the answers helps leaders to connect better emotionally and intellectually with their staff.
1. Do I lift as I climb?
Good leaders are good at climbing up the ladder in their company or even their industry (especially for good small-business owners, to whom other small-business owners look for guidance). However, great leaders bring others along with them.
In fact, the best leaders lead with a service mindset, focused on helping those who work for them (or in their industry) to become better versions of themselves. Their ascension up whatever ranks is just a side effect of their core, others-oriented approach. They believe and act like it's not about them. Do you?
2. Do I know what I don't know and let others know?
Great leaders are smart enough to recognize their shortfalls, surround themselves with others who complement their weak spots, and, most important, are transparent with all about what they don't know. They're secure enough in themselves to be vulnerable, which draws others to them even more, not less, because they become human--just like the employee who'd follow them through a brick wall.
3. Do I invite others in?
Do you lead too much in a silo? Or do you openly invite others into your circle to give their point of view, to offer advice, or to give criticism? Great leaders genuinely value the input of others and provide the opportunity for everyone to feel like they're part of creating the same special thing the leader is trying to create.
4. Do I care about my employees' careers as much as my own?
You either do or you don't--there's no gray zone. If you do, it triggers so much goodness. You'll more deeply connect with your employees because you'll show that you care about something very personal to them. You'll demonstrate that you're willing to invest time in something that's clearly not about you. It will show your human side.
If you don't know where to start, do so by simply asking your employee what they really want in their career (not what they're supposed to want). Then start mapping out a plan together to get there.
5. Is my voice loud when others' are quiet?
By this I mean, do you speak up when it's not popular to do so, in the face of tough decisions, when your employees feel intimidated or ill-equipped? The best leaders take a stand in the quietest moments when strength and bravery is called for. They fight for something worth fighting for to represent those not as able to fight.
Have there been take-a-stand moments when you remained seated? If so, be aware and watch for the next one, then step up--you'll step up the quality of your leadership as a result.
6. Am I "ring-fencing" my people enough?
Good leaders help their people manage mounting priorities. Great leaders push back on all those people or circumstances that would create unnecessary new work for their people, and protect them from it.
For example, one of the best leaders I've ever worked for was masterful in times of crisis at pushing back on leadership higher in the company who kept interfering, giving requests, and asking for more updates. He'd "ring-fence" us (figuratively, put a fence around us) to keep people away so we could do our jobs. He handled inquiries, concerns, and distractions coming from everywhere and kept us from being bothered.
You can too, no matter what size company you work in, because there are enough distractions coming from all angles, not just from above.
7. Am I providing reality and hope?
The best leaders are transparent with the troops and tell them cleanly and clearly the true state of the union. At the same time, if things aren't so rosy, they don't just leave it there. They provide an ample amount of hope to go with the reality; real hope based on smart strategies, data-based insights, and relevant storytelling, not blustery hope filled with empty promises and no substance.
You too can go from good to great. It just takes some honest introspection to change your trajectory.