There are many ways leaders can work to set themselves apart. Many require high levels of skill, like setting a vision, being a great strategic thinker or being a brilliant executor. But the most powerful way leaders can set themselves apart is something that literally anyone can do.
Give their time when their people need it most.
I made this a core value of mine in my corporate days and it paid off with organizations that consistently scored among the highest in the company for feeling motivated.
Of course, this doesn't mean be freewheeling with your time to the point that you can't effectively do your job. There's a time and a place to make space with your time. I've learned over a three-decade career the moments in time your time's most appreciated. Make yourself available for these seven occasions and your leadership lore will surely elevate.
1. Take the time to waste a moment.
Stop by their desk every now and then or catch them in the hall just to say "Hi", see how they're doing, or for a bit of small talk. It's actually not wasted time, it's time you're taking to connect that says you care. I'm not saying make a habit of interrupting people and their productivity. You'll know when it feels right to just share a human moment.
2. Take the time to teach in teachable moments.
Sure, coaching should happen in your one-on-one sessions, but even more powerful is to coach during teachable moments.
For example, pull them aside after a big meeting they presented at to tell them what worked and what needed improvement. Coach them when you see gaps in their preparation or thinking, when they fall short on a risk taken, when they lose their temper or make excuses, when they're seeing things from just their side during a conflict or tension, or when they're not aware of the perception or impression they're leaving.
3. Take the time to appreciate them in the spaces in between.
When leaders take the time to reward and recognize their employees at important moments, that's good. But great is when leaders let employees know in the quiet moments in between just how valued they are.
I liked to find a quiet day at work and stop by an employee's desk, pull them into my office, and take five minutes to tell them why I valued them so much. Nothing in particular triggered my overture, which made it even more powerful.
4. Take the time to help them shine.
Employees all have big moments, "A" situations when they need to bring their "A" game, like a key customer meeting or senior management presentation. Be aware when these moments are on deck for your employees and extend a helping hand. Help them rehearse. Practice questions with them that they should anticipate. Invest in their success.
5. Take the time to talk about their career.
You should care about their career as much as you care about your own --and show it. The easiest way to do that is to simply ask the employee what they want out of their career. Encourage them to get past what they're supposed to want to openly discuss what really motivates them and gives them meaning.
The first step is the biggest one, taking the time to ask.
6. Take the time when they ask for it --and be all in.
I had more than one manager who talked a good game about having an open-door policy, but when it came right down to it, poking your head in their office left you with a feeling they were going to tear it off.
Set boundaries and rules of engagement, of course. Employees shouldn't be stopping by six times a day to shoot the breeze or to discuss something they could easily solve themselves. But do mean it when you say you're there to help them.
And when they come in for help, set aside what you're doing and truly engage. I sometimes asked for a moment to clear my head if I was in the middle of something that was troubling me so that I could be all in on the inquiry.
7. Take the time to check in when something's wrong.
If you have a good relationship with your employee, you'll know when something is going on at work or outside of it that might have your employee at less than their best. Make a mental note to check-in without being obtrusive.
I shared in my book Make It Matter that legendary founder of the grocery chain Market Basket, Artie Demoulas, was revered in part because he remembered the smallest details of his employee's struggles and cared enough to inquire.
So know that taking the time in these seven ways is time well spent.