No matter how high up the ladder you’ve climbed, you must remember this at all times: People follow their boss because they have to. They follow a leader because they want to.
Being “just a manager” doesn’t automatically make you a leader. Becoming a Great Leader means doing more than just giving orders and signing paychecks.
When I served as the CEO of one of the largest accounting firms in the United States, I learned 5 essential habits that consistently win respect throughout an organization.
#1: Great Leaders Tell It Like It Is
Think of all those brilliant individuals you’ve recruited to join your team. How would they feel about you keeping secrets from them? Nobody likes to be kept in the dark! I recognize there are times when certain subjects cannot be discussed due to their sensitivity. You can still inform your team by being up front that the topic is not open for discussion at this point. People understand that certain HR matters or risk related issues cannot be discussed openly.
- Keep everyone in the loop. Want to cut down on rumors and back-stabbing? Simple: Keep your team informed! When everyone knows what’s going on, you’ll see a more positive work environment — not to mention that most people can do their jobs better when they have more information, not less!
- Share bad news quickly and kindly. If revenue is down, or layoffs can’t be avoided — the sooner you let people know, the better. When it is necessary for someone to lose their jobs, make every effort to connect them with resources to help them get back on their feet.
- Give constructive feedback. We spend a lot of time telling employees to buck up and learn to take “constructive criticism.” But it’s just as important — maybe more important — for leaders to learn how to give constructive criticism.
Suppose an employee makes a bad mistake — maybe they missed a key deadline or turned in a report with major errors in it. It’s only human for you to feel angry and stressed out about having a mess to clean up. And it’s only human for them to feel like dirt once they realize they’ve messed up.
Instead of making them feel even more like dirt, first remember all the mistakes that you’ve made along your career path. Most of the time, those mistakes ended up teaching you some important lessons and made you better at what you do. So be honest and firm, but also positive, when pointing out the mistake. No yelling. No screaming. No name-calling.
And don’t ever stop at telling somebody what they did wrong. Always show them how to correct the problem and prevent it from happening again.
One of my biggest pet peeves are performance reviews. This is your opportunity to really help the individual perform better. But how many times in your own career have you walked out of an evaluation and didn’t have a clue of how you were really doing? It’s hard to deliver bad news, but if you sugarcoat it, you’ll pay for it in the long run with a performance by the individual you are less than satisfied with. Be honest, back it up with examples and ask the employee what they think they need to do to perform better.
#2: Great Leaders Don’t Always Have to Have the Answers
As a leader you have to confront a variety of decisions. Should you adopt that new digital technology? Launch that new product?
If you’re feeling a little stumped, guess what? That’s what your team is for!
Nobody is an expert on everything. And I guarantee there’s somebody in your organization — or somebody you could hire — with the expertise to help you make the right move.
- That new digital gizmo you’re looking at — you may not be a techno geek, but you’ve got somebody on staff who is.
- That new product launch — maybe it’s outside of your experience. But someone else does know something about it, or perhaps it’s time to recruit a new employee with the expertise needed to be successful in the new product category.
You’ve likely heard it before — and it’s true — that great leaders hire people who are smarter than them. If every member of your team is an expert on at least one thing that you’re bad at, you’re doing something right!
Here’s a technique that’s worked for me. When someone comes in and tells you about a problem they are having and that individual is expecting you to solve their problem, respond this way: “I hear what you are saying, so let me think about it and get back to you. However, I would love to hear what you think we should do.”
That kind of response does two things. First, it tells the employee you are taking their problem seriously and second, it empowers them to address issues as they arise. You don’t want to be the “Shell Answer Man.” If you don’t know what that means, Google it. If you become the Shell Answer Man your day will be consumed with solving everyone’s problems and not focusing your attention on the long-term success of your organization.
#3: Great Leaders Aren’t Close Friends with the People They Supervise
Say what? Aren’t we supposed to get along with everybody at work?
Of course you are! You need great relationships. But there are different kinds of relationships. For example, you have a different relationship with your parents than you do with your own children, even though you love them all.
And now that you’re in management — especially if you’re managing former co-workers or close friends — you must recognize that you have a different kind of relationship with them now that your roles have changed.
- You may be tempted to share secrets with a close friend that you don’t tell everybody else. But as a leader it’s your job to communicate with everybody fairly.
- You may play favorites, giving plum assignments to your best friend that should go to another, more qualified individual.
- If a close friend becomes your employee, they may be tempted to “slack off” because they think you’ll be more lenient with them than with everybody else.
- You may, in fact, be more lenient than you should if your close friend does commit a policy violation or egregious error.
- If it becomes necessary for your best friend to lose their job, it could damage the relationship. It’s hard to be the manager who lays them off, and the best friend whose shoulder they cry on.
One of the biggest mistakes I see all to often are vacations. Don’t vacation with close co-workers and their families. Nothing good will come out of it. And if you think you’re being discrete, think again. In the world of social media, nothing is a secret anymore.
Bottom line – We all need close friends and confidants, but find them outside the workplace!
#4: Great Leaders Take Risks
Remember this quote from best-selling author H. Jackson Brown, Jr.:
Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.
It’s natural to prefer safety and security to the danger of risk. But remember, for every decision you make, there is always a possibility that something will go wrong.
If you launch that new product, it might be the Next Big Thing or the Next Big Flop. If you open that new location in a new city, the folks there might love you just as much as they do in your hometown, or they might not.
But if you’re too afraid to even attempt those moves, you’re probably losing out anyway. After all, there’s always the possibility that you’ll be successful — but only if you try! And even if the new venture doesn’t work out like you hoped, you’ll still learn some valuable lessons that will help you make better decisions in the future.
Fear and success generally don’t mix. It’s hard to accomplish anything — or inspire others to join your efforts — if you’re playing it safe.
#5: Great Leaders Practice the Lost Art of Walking Around
While email and texting are great for communicating across time and distance, there is still a lot of value in talking face to face.
More than 20 years ago, when I accepted a leadership role in an office that was in transition, my CEO gave me some excellent advice: walk around and talk to people. Not just your management team, but everyone, in every department — the receptionist, the supply clerk, everyone.
If you get into the habit of Leadership by Walking Around (LBWA) every day, you’ll receive two important benefits:
- You’ll be amazed at what you learn. Remember when I said it’s okay to not have all the answers? This is why it’s okay. When you reach out to employees, on a regular basis, you’ll learn first hand what’s on their minds. You’ll uncover problems and opportunities that you may not have learned about otherwise.
- They’ll be amazed to have a “boss” who cares. When the leader asks about what they know, what they think, and how they’re doing, they’ll be happier in their jobs. You’ll enhance the feelings of camaraderie between you and your employees — and between the employees themselves.
Everybody wants their opinion to count. When you practice LBWA, you’ll earn the respect that gets people thinking of you as a Great Leader.
I hope these 5 habits help you along your own successful leadership journey.
If you’ll put these habits into practice every day, you’ll be happier, your employees will be happier, and you’ll be helping everyone in your organization to Thrive and not Just Survive!