That was the response from a friend when we were recently talking about how much she enjoys her job. She’s worked with this person for several years, they have a great rapport, and she loves her work. She said the fact that her boss is easy to work with is a primary reason for her success and job satisfaction.
Her statement got me thinking about my own leadership. Am I easy to follow? I’d like to think so, but of course, the only real opinion that matters is that of my team members. Considering leadership in general, what makes a person easy to follow? I think the answers are pretty straight forward and common sense, but often not common practice because our own personality quirks and baggage get in the way.
As I’ve considered this question, the following 10 leadership practices have come clear to me as characteristics of leaders who are easy to follow:
1. Be nice – It’s kind of sad this has to be called out but it does. Too many leaders are jerks. They let power go to their heads and think they have the right to lord it over their people. Don’t do that, please. Just be nice. Smile every once in a while. Say please and thank you. Ask people how their day is going. It doesn’t cost you a dime to be nice and you’ll be amazed at how much more engaged and productive your team will be if you treat them nicely.
2. Give people your time – The greatest gift you can give your people is a few minutes of your time. Leaders like to say they have an open door policy, but is that the case with you in reality? When people stop by your office, do you stop what you’re doing and give them your full attention, or do you ask them to schedule a meeting with you for the following week? Does everyone on your team know without a doubt that they can meet with you regarding any topic, or are there barriers (real or imagined) between you and your employees that prevent them from opening up to you? Giving people the gift of your time shows you value, respect, and genuinely care about them. I know from experience that the larger your team the harder this is to accomplish. Get creative by scheduling regular communication forums (quarterly meetings, town hall meetings, etc.) and make sure you leave enough white space on your own calendar to be available for those impromptu drop-in meetings. We often over-schedule ourselves to the point where we don’t have any availability for our own team members.
3. Don’t expect everyone to be like you – This can be challenging, particularly for leaders who have personalities that favor perfectionism. It’s great to have high expectations for yourself; that’s probably what helped you rise to a leadership position. It’s good to have high expectations for your staff as well, but remember, they may not do things exactly the way you would. Give people the freedom to be who they are and leverage their strengths to help them achieve their goals and those of the team. Don’t try to make them your personal mini-me’s.
4. Solicit and incorporate people’s ideas – Many leaders are great at asking for ideas; only a few actually do anything with them. One of the quickest ways to alienate your team members is to tell them you want to hear their ideas and are open to feedback, but not actually do anything with it when it’s shared with you. Incorporate the ideas of your team members into your action plans and they’ll be invested in the success of your team. People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.
5. Be good at what you do – This one may see odd, but people want to follow leaders who are good at what they do. Set a good example for your team by continually improving your skills, both in your technical role as well as your leadership skills. Many people get promoted into a leadership role because they were star performers in their role as an individual contributor. Leadership is a whole different skill set so be sure to focus on developing the skills and abilities that will help you lead effectively.
6. Empower people – Empowerment was a popular buzz word in the 90’s and soon fell out of favor, however, the concept is still valid and effective. Good leaders establish the boundaries of the playing field for their team members, make sure everyone is clear on the rules and objectives, and then let them play the game. They don’t micromanage and dictate how the work should be done, but they manage to the outcome of what needs to be done.
7. Recognize and reward good performance – Leaders who are easy to follow are experts in finding people doing something right. They take the time to acknowledge the good performance of their team members and to celebrate their (and the team’s) success. When I conduct training sessions with clients and this topic comes up, I will frequently ask participants to raise their hand if they are sick and tired of all the praising they receive at work. No one ever raises their hand. People crave hearing positive feedback about their hard work.
8. Treat people with respect and create an environment of trust and safety – The spirits of too many people die at the office door each morning because they dread their work environment. No one should have to feel bullied, intimidated, or afraid to go to work. It’s the leader’s job to foster an environment of trust and safety that allow team members to unleash their power and potential for the good of themselves and the organization.
9. Show a sense of humor; make work fun – Making work fun and showing a sense of humor is a hallmark of leaders who are easy to follow. They create a sense of camaraderie within the team and keep the mood light when times get tough. They know how to take work seriously but themselves lightly. Showing a sense of humor and laughing at yourself once in a while shows your vulnerability and authenticity that draw people to you, not away from you.
10. Maintain perspective on the most important priorities in life – Work is important; life is more important. Easy to follow leaders maintain the proper perspective about what’s most important in life. These kinds of leaders understand they have to lead the whole person, not just the worker who shows up to do a job eight hours a day. Kids get sick, employees have personal challenges, life happens….good leaders understand this and are sensitive to the needs of their team members. Show a little compassion and understanding with your team members and you’ll earn their loyalty, trust, and commitment.
Leadership is a complex proposition, but it doesn’t have to complicated. It’s these common sense principles that help us be successful leaders, if only we can get out of our own way.
What else would you add to this? What makes a leader easy to follow? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts and ideas.