"A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and those who are doing well to do even better." ~Jim Rohn
"The great leaders are like the best conductors - they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players." ~Blaine Lee
Great leaders don’t become great through their individual achievement. They get that way by working through their team and nurturing their talent. If you want to make a HUGE impact in your organization, you can’t do it yourself. But if you build up your team and leverage their abilities, together you can move mountains.
The wonderful thing is that the traits that great leaders use to bring out the best in their team aren’t particular complicated or unfamiliar, they are just consistently applied on a personal level:
Recognition – Great leaders know that they need to reward what they want to see more of. People want to be successful and want to be a part of winning teams, but that isn’t enough to truly bring out their best, for that employees want their hard work and contributions recognized. Providing recognition for successes both publicly and privately on an individual basis helps to build the expectation of success amongst everyone.
Focus on strengths – Yes, you want to minimize weaknesses, but leveraging your team’s strengths should be the first priority. When everyone on the team is working from a position of strength the team can move forward with greatest ease. If you think about sports teams, players are almost always working in a way that maximizes their strength. They don’t neglect or avoid their weaknesses, but they play to what they are best at. When employees work from positions of strength it builds their confidence which will help them act quicker, more decisively and with an eye towards opportunities.
Empathy – Great leaders understand their employees better than average and poor leaders. This helps them customize coaching and instruction, recognize issues quickly, and see opportunities for growth. This understanding is always built over time spent communicating with the team and paying attention when things are occurring. Since great leaders naturally spend a lot of time communicating with their team, this trait comes much easier than for others.
Empowerment – If you want to build up your team you need to empower them to do more on their own. Pushing them to learn and take responsibility for increasingly important tasks is central to getting the best out of them. This requires the leader to have a greater tolerance for mistakes and failures, and a willingness to accept those short term losses for the long term gains of having more experienced and skilled employees.
Foster trust – Trust is a requirement for highly-effective teams, but it is also an extraordinarily powerful tool on an individual basis. Do you remember the feeling of when someone trusted you with something really important? Do you remember the sense of pride you felt? Do you remember how focused you were on responsibly handling what you were entrusted with? Would you say that you were at your best with whatever it was? Great leaders recognize this and therefore demonstrate trust and emulate trust as often as possible.
Give – You get what you give. Great leaders pour into their team by tirelessly working for them, modelling honesty, and providing them tools and training. When they do that they get more effort from their team, they get honest and straightforward feedback and they get heartfelt application of new skills in return. In short, they get hardworking, honest and skilled employees in return.
Explain things clearly – If you want the best, you are going to need to clearly explain what your goal is in a way that your employees can understand and work towards. Your team can’t be at their best if they don’t understand what you are asking. Going into the details is also something that develops the team by giving them more insight into what you view as important and also shows that you value them enough to take the time and effort.
Listen – Showing your team respect by listening to them builds up their confidence by demonstrating that their feedback and ideas have value. Great leaders will often kick this practice into a higher gear by asking questions that give the employee further validation that their feedback is of value and helps the leader bring more depth to the conversation.
Care about their career – Employees work best when they care about their work. Great leaders nurture this feeling by working with the employee to better their career. Whether that is giving them the exposure and skills to be promoted or to make a lateral move into another area that they are interested in. The employee will give more when they feel that they are getting something out of it, and it is yet another way for the great leader to practice empathy and build trust.
Expect the best and support it – Great leaders create a culture of excellence by pushing their team to be their best and not tolerating less. This doesn’t mean that they are aggressive or rude, it’s just that they set the bar high and TRUST and EMPOWER the team members to meet that expectation. They are partners with the employee in making sure they can bring their best to every task.
The quality of a staff is the best reflection on the quality of the leader. Working through your people is key to your success in leadership. The extent to which you are successful in bringing out their best will determine whether you are a true leader, or a leader in title only.