It’s easy to desire a few steps up the corporate ladder or the foundation of your own company for the pay, responsibility and prestige these positions of authority bring, but the most commonly forgotten aspect about being in these positions is that they entail a certain amount of leadership, inherently. It sounds ridiculous, but when daydreaming about how to conquer the world, it’s easy to forget that being put in charge of a department means being put in charge of its constituent employees as well as the workload. In fact the greatest failing of small-business owners and aspiring professionals is often within this specific category. Whether you’re unsure as to how many days an employee can really be sick or you simply and genuinely want to motivate the team to hit that next deadline with flying colors, here’s a list of a few tips and tricks to improve your, and your employees’, performance before the next review.
What is probably one of the most commonly forgotten aspects of a power divergent relationship, on both sides, is the realization that both parties are human. Being the leader often means taking the first step, and it can mean doing so here, too, in establishing empathy in and for every employee.
You shouldn’t be a doormat, but a little empathy never hurt anyone. In fact there are studies to show that better connections with the people in your life improves not only job performance and satisfaction but has long-term effects on longevity and overall happiness.
As with anything, becoming a great leader often starts simply and underwhelmingly. Listening to someone’s seemingly meaningless stories about their children or their cats will very quickly tell you what they value and in many ways how you can motivate them. Let’s take an example:
Bob is your traditional outdoorsman when he’s outside of the office, and his favorite hobby — and topic of conversation — is fishing. Even if you aren’t interested in the subject matter, you can learn much about Bob by how he talks about fishing. Does he go out every time in search of the record-breaker that he’ll just barely, with a whole lot of luck and a little bit of skill, land in the boat? Or does he talk about the serenity and the beauty of the escape from the hustle and bustle of modernity? The first version of Bob would work better in a team, while the second would work better alone. The first is more likely to be motivated by bonuses, while the latter is probably going to prefer a 401(k) matching plan or better health benefits.
You can see how listening closely to even the most inane conversation will make you a better leader.
The best leaders know that there is no single correct style of leadership for every member of the team. Each individual has their own needs that must be met. Everyone has a unique time to be pushed and a time to get slack.
Ultimately the best policy for being able to analytically and intuitively discern the needs of each employee is best accomplished by understanding your employees as people. Though you’re unlikely to know your employees’ exact reaction to every piece of news, if you have listened to them effectively, you can more accurately select the best procedure.
There’s a great article by the Harvard Business Review regarding the best course of action to take in the event that an employee begins to cry at work. As a leader, you are guaranteed to experience this at least once in your tenure, if not more. The post advises you be yourself and let them dictate what happens next. If one of your friends or family members began crying, what would you do? I bet you wouldn’t act like “the boss.” Instead you might try to soothe them, get a tissue or take them to a quiet place where they could let the tears flow.
Maintaining authority doesn’t mean always putting forth austerity and stoicism. Let your employees be emotional around you, and be emotional back.
The Ultimate Goal
Take a leaf from John Wooden, the storied UCLA basketball coach, who explains a good leader will ideally be able to identify each individual’s leadership requirements. Since each person has different needs, it comes down to the leader to identify whether those needs include a shoulder to cry on or an iron fist. He explains that it’s not about favoritism but rather identification of the needs of individuals.
Even when dealing with a problem employee, it ultimately comes down to knowing them so the best course of action is apparent. The company will often have a series of disciplinary actions that serve as a roadmap for getting them on the right track. Most leaders can choose to rely heavily on the rigid framework or tweak it as necessary. You must remember that you’re the boss and they’re the employees, but at no point do either of you stop being human.