October 21, 2013
In the video below, Kristi Hedges points out a communication mistake that leaders tend to make: They tend to think they have to show up differently than who they really are, when what employees expect from effective leaders is to know them personally. The real secret to leadership is to be yourself.
In my first management position at age 25, I thought I should show up differently. My 17 former peers knew me as a helpful friend and a people person. Suddenly I was driving a goal to increase productivity and decrease costs in a very task-oriented way. Once I changed back to myself, they engaged in the goal enthusiastically, and WE as a team, enjoyed outstanding results and relationships.
Here are some tips to staying true to yourself:
1. Treat people like they are more important than the goal. When interpersonal communication at work is pleasant, employees can focus on working instead of getting sidetracked by a tense workplace.
2. Tell and show people that you value them as a person, not just as a contributor. For one person this is being respectful of their time. For another it’s acknowledging their extra work. Still for another, it might be asking how their family is.
3. Use their name. My mom taught me, “The most important thing to a person is their name, so always remember it.” In a seminar the other day, a senior level person remarked that he admired my ability to remember the names of all the participants I’d just met. People do notice and it shows an extra courtesy that they are important.
4. Listen. Really listen. Give your full attention to the person for 1-3 minutes and learn what’s on their mind. Let them lead the conversation. Ask questions that ferret out why they think the deadline is too short or why the project will derail in four months if a change is not made now. Many analytical people don’t mention problems they can foresee because management will label them “negative” or “difficult.” Reflect on the issues from their point of view. Even if you can’t deliver what they request, keep the dialog open so they feel safe talking and connecting with you.
5. Act like a leader that employees would choose to work with again. I sat next to Dr. Bruce Green, former Surgeon General USAF, on a plane last year. He said his measure of success as a leader is whether people would choose to work with him again.
People choose to work with people who connect personally and are friendly, flexible, and initiators of open communication. There are many people who are excellent at the technical aspect of a leader’s job. But only one person can be YOU!
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