“Feelings” are often a “dirty” word in the business arena. Many senior executives are not comfortable dealing with feelings, yet introducing humanity into your leadership persona (brand) is critical to your success – especially at the top of a great organization.
At a recent Wharton Club presentation in South Florida, the participants benefitted from embracing feelings as they explored their mindsets, values and the need for “stay” interviews with key employees.
Here are the two notions they embraced: The first is a quote from my book Leadership Conversations: Challenging High Potential Managers to Become Great Leaders; the second is a message I deliver in keynotes that I perform for clients:
- To quote Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
- My belief: Leadership skills are often derided as “soft” skills by those who do not possess them; those who do possess them realize that they are critical foundational skills.
The crux of leadership is to connect, align and inspire others so that their activities are performed at the highest possible level. In marketing terms, leadership is a “pull” strategy, not a “push” strategy; or, as my 96-year-old dad still says, “It is easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar.”
If people do not feel that they want you as their leader and that you hold their interests at heart, they will accomplish less and actually disrupt the organization more. They won’t take the extra time to be creative, to provide over-the-top customer service or to even see how their job connects with the rest of the organization in order to add greater value. They will model your behaviors.
How can you align yourself with your folks so that they feel valued?
- Have the on-boarding conversation with every person in your area of responsibility. During this conversation, focus on how your relationship with them will work, not on the job that needs to be done.
- Be truly open to what others have to say which entails your being willing to change your mind based on what you hear.
- Ask open-ended questions to show your folks that they matter to you and so you can learn even more from them. Great ideas come from people who feel included. They will save the best feedback and suggestions for when you show you are worthy of receiving it.
- Listen to what they have to say. Instead of immediately responding to their first statement, ask the “what else” and “tell me more” questions to make sure they tell you all that is important to them. i.e. listen with your heart and ears, not with your mouth.
- Then restate what you heard to ensure you received the message they intended to communicate to you and so that they truly feel heard! Most people will accept decisions made in the organization and rally behind them once they feel that their thoughts have been heard and considered.
- Discuss how this information might improve their success, as well as yours and the organization’s success so that they get used to bringing actionable items to you for consideration.
- Create a strong feedback culture so that information flows freely. Often we think we have an open-door policy that in reality is not one because we set up barriers to communication.
- Provide and receive feedback on an ongoing basis to ensure that each of you will reach your targets with a minimum of wasted efforts.
- Never insert feedback into a formal review process unless you are already working with the individual to improve the behaviors and beliefs that are holding them back.
- Be a believer in positive intentions – theirs and yours!
How will you find the time to have these conversations? It is simple. Following these steps will increase employee engagement and productivity which lowers turnover and by increasing clarity in conversations which leads to less wasted time and fewer last-minute crisis that burn both time and resources.
Alan Berson is an author, keynote speaker, executive coach, Learning Director at Wharton Executive Education and the CEO of Leadership Conversation LLC based in Potomac, MD. His recent book, LEADERSHIP CONVERSATIONS: Challenging High-Potential Managers to Become Great Leaders, was released by Jossey-Bass in March of this year and was named as one of the top 10 management/leadership books by Amazon.com. An extensive review can be found at Knowledge@Wharton.