Think for a moment about the most effective boss that you’ve ever worked with in your life. As you look back, ponder for a moment what made that individual stand out. What characteristics made him or her special?
Was it charisma? Drive? Enthusiasm? The ability to motivate? Whatever the case, the type of leader that stands out today — perhaps like those etched in your memory — has been talked about for decades in the literature and bestsellers. This person is often referred to as a “servant leader,” “transformational leader,” or “conscious leader.”
Under the guidance of such leaders, people often give twice the effort as opposed to more command-and-control leadership styles.
So what exactly is it about them that will release discretionary effort in others and across the enterprise?
Through my research and observations over the years, I have determined that it comes down to several factors. For the sake of length, I’ll narrow it down to six key behaviors for this piece.
By the way, as you read further, these six behaviors will inform you of whether you’re a much better leader than you give yourself credit for.
1. You help create meaningful work.
Research states that “work” is one of the top things that give people a meaningful life. One 2003 study of 25 top companies in the world set out to discover what attracts and retains top performers. The study found that employees in those companies felt their work was valuable — it gave them significance and purpose, and it made them feel that they mattered and that they were doing something that was worthwhile or important. In turn, it’s been found that if we feel good about our work, it not only fuels business outcomes like productivity and profitability, it also lowers stress and causes less burnout.
2. You let others shine.
Perhaps you’ve worked for a self-serving leader? Typically, they need to be in the spotlight to keep their inflated ego fed. On the flip side, the most remarkable servant leaders don’t need the glory; they understand what they’ve achieved. They don’t seek validation, because true validation comes from within. They stand back and celebrate other people’s accomplishments; they let others shine and give them credit for the success of the job, which helps boost the confidence of others.
3. You lead from your heart.
More than ever, we are faced with business challenges that call for higher levels of innovation, knowledge, and soft skills. So when leaders operate from a place of integrity, honesty, and compassion (matters of the heart), they gain the trust of their team members. Yes, they are still tough and hold others accountable for performance, excellence, and results, but people feel safe in their presence.
4. You meet the needs of others.
Great leaders are cognizant of what’s needed to keep their most valued team members motivated and engaged in their work. They ask themselves questions like:
Do my employees know what is expected of them at work?
Do my employees have the opportunity to do what they do best every day?
Have my top performers received recognition or praise for doing good work?
Do I, or does someone at work, encourage employees’ personal and professional development?
5. You give and receive feedback regularly.
In a casual interview a few years ago, Elon Musk dropped one of the best quotes in regards to improving oneself:
I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice — constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.
The feedback loop is unquestionably part of every leader’s growing process. In trusted teams, negative and constructive feedback will stretch a leader (and team members) to learn new things. Managers also win the hearts of their people by being open and sharing plans for the future, communicating important things to their people, and fostering a transparent culture of giving and receiving feedback on no less than a weekly basis.
6. You share your power.
Instead of leveraging their positional power for personal gain, self-promotion, or demands for special privileges, great leaders put people in positions of leadership to stretch their growth and develop new strengths and roles for them. In essence, they are able to share their power because they’re in it for their people and want to see them win. By sharing power and releasing control, great leaders actually gain real power. Employees are more loyal, more committed, and unleash discretionary effort beyond what is expected of them. This is all possible because they work for selfless leaders with a keen interest in their people’s growth and success. It’s really a win-win-win — the leader wins, the employees win, and the company wins.
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