The worst leaders are remembered for what they did to their people, the best for what they did for their people. It's as simple, and as tricky, as that.

Tricky because, as a leader, it's easy to focus solely on tending to the business and your career, forgetting that tending to your people first will take care of both.

Over a 30-year career of leading others, I've learned that delivering the "for" is as important as delivering the forecast (again, they aren't mutually exclusive). It's what good leaders, and good human beings, do. However, even with the most altruistic intent, you can miss doing the kind of thing that epitomizes your number one role as a leader.

To care.

Here are the five most powerful things you can do for your people to do right by your people.

1. Build a MOAT around them.

MOAT stands for "managing on absolute trust," and it's a must. It's what you would want as an employee, no? To carry this idea further, I pictured building a moat around my people as a key part of my job. Doing so creates an empowered island where employees are free to choose how they rule their kingdom (their projects, business, and affairs) without interference.

My staff were protected from outside interference, and yet there was always a drawbridge to my help and assistance. I'd cross over that drawbridge upon request or would proactively do so to provide coaching and nurturing (thus, they were never "on an island," as the negative connotation goes).

A drawbridge is narrow, by design. So requests for new work I'd flow to my people had to be narrowed and prioritized too. Thinking of the drawbridge metaphor served as a reminder for me to prioritize what I asked the troops to work on.

Finally, moats are reserved for protecting and growing important assets. Picturing the moat around my people reminded me to reinforce that they were valued and valuable, worthy and worthwhile.

2. Give them the best feedback they've ever gotten.

It's not a high enough bar to merely invest the time it takes to give feedback. Any leader can do that, although clearly not every leader does. Research from Officevibe (an online leadership learning platform) shows that two-thirds of employees want more feedback, and 83 percent say the feedback they get isn't helpful.

The best bosses go beyond and thoughtfully plan out and deliver insightful, actionable, even brave, feedback. I could write a separate article on giving great feedback, but you get the lion's share of it by keeping the following in mind.

Think of the best feedback you've ever gotten and replicate what had to be true for you to have gotten it. It required insight into you as a person and nailing a fundamental truth about what makes you great (that you should do more of) or what was holding you back. It took time, careful observation, and for the giver of the feedback to be caring enough about you to get the feedback spot-on and deliver it in a way you could hear it. Start here.

3. Care about their careers as much as you care about yours.

Start by having crystallizing career conversations. Help them identify what they want to do in their careers, not what their supposed to want to do. Get clear with them on what it takes to get where they want to go, and discuss options without setting unrealistic expectations.

Then advocate for them ferociously--even have a marketing plan for showcasing their talents in ways that will give them a career boost. Do this by knowing who the target audience is of career influencers you want to expose each employee to, what the key career-enhancing messages are that you want to share, how you'll share them, and when (in what scenarios).

4. Get the skeletons out of their closets.

This means getting employees to share their most closely held performance weaknesses: the things they know they need to work on but are afraid to admit.

This puts learning in overdrive, but can only happen if you have a foundation of trust in place (which will be there if you've built a moat). Maybe they don't like to speak in front of large groups or feel they stink at analysis. Agree to not put the opportunity on any formal performance report and just get to work helping the employee develop on that front.

5. Teach them in teachable moments.

Continuing with the theme of investing in their development and growth, be on the lookout for teachable moments when learning is most powerful. Moments like right after they don't give their best effort during a key presentation or when they're seeing things only from their side during conflicts or tensions. In those moments, coach.

Most important, do these things right because they're the right things to do. 

Published on: Jun 7, 2019
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