The thing I wanted more than anything "growing up" as a leader was to be unforgettable to employees--for my impact on their performance, growth, happiness, and life. Did I achieve that status for anyone at all? I can only hope so because I know the impact that unforgettable leaders in my life had.
But alas, probably far too few have truly experienced this.
In conducting research for Find the Fire, I interviewed or surveyed over 1000 employees and 1000 managers and found that almost 60 percent of employees say that the single biggest thing they want from their boss is for him/her to be inspiring; yet only 11 percent answer in the affirmative when asked if their boss is indeed inspiring.
Furthermore, self-awareness on this front isn't exactly sky high among the leaders themselves. Leaders gave themselves an average score of seven out of ten for how inspirational they thought they were, while their employees scored them on this trait at an average of four out of ten or lower.
Yup, your boss thinks he's inspirational like in Good Will Hunting, while you daydream of hunting for another job.
As part of my research, I also sought to determine exactly what makes a leader special; worthy of the status of "the best boss I've ever had". Interestingly, five themes clearly stood out. And they weren't all touchy-feely in nature but instead mixed things that spoke to delivering a great workplace and great results. Strive to ingrain these five habits and standout as a leader that stands the test of time.
1. Create meaning.
Understand that meaning is what motivates employees in a manner that sustains. Foster meaning through actions such as being clear on the organization's purpose, encouraging each employee to define the legacy they want to leave behind, and by granting large swaths of autonomy. You also create meaning for employees when you invest in their personal growth and development and help foster their sense of competence and self-esteem.
You can help your employees become better versions of themselves and in so doing become a better version of yourself.
2. Consciously care.
I never said this stuff was rocket-science. And yet over two-thirds of employees say that their boss does not genuinely care about them.
This may be the lowest hanging fruit opportunity on this list. Visibly exude caring, compassion, and concern for employees. Thoughtfully administer rewards and recognition (tailoring to employee preferences for how they like to be rewarded), ensure employees have robust personal growth and development plans, and unswervingly show respect.
3. Decide and communicate the decisions.
Nothing is more crippling to an organization than a leader who can't or won't just make the call. Timelines extend unmercifully, costs skyrocket, and parallel paths linger and burn everyone out.
Organizational clarity starts with a leader who not only decides but also invests the time to over-communicate decisions (and the "why" behind those decisions).
As a leader, you can decide to just decide and better yet, enroll key stakeholders in those decisions along the way. People need to weigh before they can buy in, after all. There's nothing wrong with healthy debate along the way by the way, but then after the debate, it's time to decide, commit, and communicate the decision.
4. Set a vision and connect the dots.
It's vital that once-in-a-career leaders set a compelling, inspiring vision that focuses employees and encourages the expenditure of their discretionary energy. It should be a vision grounded in strategic objectives and the values of the company.
When you set such a vision, employees show up with conviction and are passionate about building something together that makes a difference in something that matters. In the absence of a compelling vision, employees can flounder. Think about yourself and what it's like to work in a place that has no clear, inspiring vision--you feel rudderless.
It's just as important that the vision is then consistently communicated and that the leader helps each employee understand what their unique role is in delivering the vision.
5. Practice "relaxed intensity."
This means having a very intentional balance of the seriousness and commitment it takes to win with the camaraderie and fun it takes to win on a sustained basis.
As a leader, you can role-model relaxed intensity by visibly having fun at work and being authentic and approachable while at the same time having a fierce desire to win, beat the competition, surpass goals, and continually improve.
You certainly don't want to be too much of one or the other. I've been in organizations that were all intensity and no fun as well as places that were all fun but didn't have enough underlying drive to succeed. Not good.
Being thought of as a once-in-a-career leader is a high bar to clear. So set a clear path for building these habits into your daily leadership routine.