A few weeks back I was asked to give a two-hour session to a group of senior leaders on the topic of “leadership” and how it ties to core values. Yikes. There are few more talked-about, written-about, blogged-about, topics than leadership. There are training programs, certification programs, and even degrees available in the subject. So what do you extract for an up-beat, applicable, try-this-now, kind of approach? Well, how about this set of 5 things leaders should know that their employees want from them. They’re all based on the idea that leaders need followers.
Leadership is only leadership if there’s followership. And followers follow longer and more loyally when there’s personal power over positional power. With the latter, I might do what you ask because your role demands that I do; with the former, I do what I think you’ll appreciate because I value you and want to please you.
Employees follow more willingly when leaders…
- Consistently value them as a person. As an employee, team member, staff, associate – whatever word you choose to describe the people who exchange work for pay at your organization – I am more likely to follow you as a leader if you consistently value me as a person. Learn my name. Listen to my stories and my aspirations. Hear the meaning behind my questions and my concerns. Value me not as a number, a resource, a pencil, a role – but as an actual, real-live human. Show me you are willing to demonstrate an interest in me. Show me you care enough to ask me about my weekend or my vacation. When I’m weary or under the weather, show me you notice, and demonstrate concern for my well-being. Don’t just ask me when I can get back to work: ask me how I’m feeling and if I need anything. When I’m jubilant or exceptionally delighted, show me you notice, and demonstrate curiosity about my joy. Ask me about the extra spring in my step; offer to celebrate with me, at least in word and in spirit. Show me you know what we have in common; show me you know how we’re different. Show me I matter as an individual, as a human, as a person.
- Believe in them and praise their abilities and contributions. As a member of an organization, I’m more likely to work harder when my hard work is recognized. We all have different ways we like to be appreciated, but when I contributed, acknowledge me somehow. When I accomplish new goals or exceed expectations, or do something novel or unique or outstanding, take a moment out of your day to tell me you’re proud of me. Set expectations for me – set the bar, if you will – and set it to challenge me and help me grow. Recognize the unique skills and abilities I have to offer and help me hone those for our success. Trust me with the tasks and resources you have assigned me, and step back just a little so I can show you I can do it. Show me you believe in my ability to succeed. Cheer me on. If you think I’m doing well, say so in some way that I can hear and understand and know that you are pleased, and so that I can do it again and again.
- Support them and be there for the challenging moments. I’m more likely to continue to follow you if I feel like you’ve got my back. If we’re out on a limb together, don’t push me off and climb back to safety on your own: grab my hand and pull me back to safety, or help me create a net together. When someone attacks me or asks the impossible, stand up for me and offer me a little bit of shelter and protection. I’m not asking you to defend me from my own mistakes or the consequences of my actions. I’m not asking you to insulate me from everything, but work – or fight – alongside me when the time comes. Defend me from unfair or unjust treatment because of my gender or skin or age or life journey. Give me some time to heal or to grieve after tough losses. Help me find the silver lining or the new day to embrace so I can move forward.
- Balance accountability and humility. Hold me accountable to the expectations you’ve set. Talk about what you expect from me, and then talk about how I’ve met, exceeded, or failed to meet those expectations. Hold my peers and colleagues accountable to the expectations you’ve set for them. When we misstep, provide correction and coaching and help us get back on track (it is a gift after all). Don’t tolerate repeated bad behaviors or consistent attempts to shirk responsibility. Eliminate “that’s not my job” from our team’s vocabulary so we all share a desire to do what needs to be done to achieve our team’s success. And when mistakes are made, help us learn from them. When you make a mistake, raise your ARM and apologize. Demonstrate your own humanity and fallibility so that we can learn from our mistakes and grow beyond them. Don’t beat us up repeatedly over past mistakes. Give us a chance to learn from them, then move on so we don’t have to keep talking about them.
- Commit to the future. I am more likely to follow you if I’m confident you’ve thought about a future to follow you to. Talk about the idea of continuous improvement or “even better”. Tell me about the hopes and dreams and plans you have for us as a team or an organization. Talk about how the work we do today ties into the strategic goals set for tomorrow and beyond. Show me a willingness to change or to try something new to help us better achieve our future goals. Show me how you take calculated risks to move us forward, even though the exact outcome isn’t 100% certain. If we’re a part of a larger organization, show me your commitment to the mission and vision of that organization so I, too, can be committed. Show me how you invest in your own development, and invest in mine. Help us together to look not just to what got us to where we are today, but to what will help us reach an even better future.
There’s a quip about leaders: if you lead your team on a journey, and you look behind you and no one is following you, you’re not leading; you’re just out for a walk. The five concepts above are ways that leaders can improve the likelihood that others will want to follow them. If you demonstrate that you value people, that you recognize their contributions, that you have their back, that you hold them and yourself accountable, and that you keep looking to the future, you will be more likely to attract more followers who want to work alongside you.
Want to build up employees who demonstrate the same level of accountability as owners? Check out our newest webinar.