This story originally appeared in the Summer 2021 Thriving Magazine and was written by Genise Wade, Chief Human Resources Officer at The Wenger Group. Read the entire Thriving Magazine online here.
You are being watched. If you are a leader of any kind in your organization—a leader through influence, or directly leading a team, department, or a whole organization—people are watching you. They watch how you present yourself, how you talk about and treat people, how you act under stress, how you honor your commitments, how you demonstrate your work ethic, and much more. Not only are they watching; they are learning. In your daily actions, you are inadvertently teaching developing employees what leaders do and how they behave.
Though some people are “natural-born leaders,” many of our leadership behaviors are learned from our environments. Think about experiences you’ve had with different bosses or organizational leaders during your career. Many of us can recall leaders that are motivating and inspiring, and hopefully we’ve learned how to replicate those traits with the teams we now lead. It’s quite possible that many of us also remember leaders with unacceptable workplace behaviors. If you’ve had to endure them, hopefully you’ve not picked up their bad habits but rather you’ve learned what not to do from them.
Just as your leaders have had an impact on you, it’s important to recognize you make an impact on those looking up to you. If you want to teach developing employees how to lead, take some time to reflect on what kind of leader you are and the impact you are making on them. Consider how you demonstrate the following ideas to ensure employees looking to you are learning behaviors that will develop them into good future leaders.
BE SOMEONE YOU’D LIKE TO WORK WITH/FOR
Do you show up for and support your team members? Are you aware of your own behaviors and attitudes and the impact they have on others? If you even hesitate with an answer to that question, maybe it’s time to get some honest feedback from your supervisor, direct reports, and peers to increase your self-awareness. Learning more about your strengths, weaknesses, and the effectiveness of your communication methods is powerful. Taking action on others’ feedback also shows you are always willing to improve.
Good leaders share a most valuable resource with their team…their time. Schedule 1-on-1’s with each direct report and with key peers. This gives you dedicated time to discuss important objectives and progress, provide (and receive) beneficial feedback, and coach them through their challenges. Share your knowledge on topics or people in the organization to help them navigate through organizational politics. Share your stories and lessons learned so they don’t have to learn some of them the hard way like you did.
BE A GRACIOUS LEADER
How often have you made mistakes? Did your leader respond to those mistakes with kindness and grace? Or did they respond with harsh treatment? Yes, there are varying levels of errors, so there must also be varying levels of accountability. When your team members make mistakes, provide feedback in private. Then take whatever action is appropriate for the situation while treating them with the dignity they deserve. How you treat people during challenging moments makes all the difference in how they learn to treat others, and it says more about you as a leader than how good you can be during easy times.
CONTINUE TO EMBRACE LEARNING
This shows up in a lot of ways such as reading about current trends in your industry or field, attending training, getting 360 feedback, or adopting new leadership or coaching methods. Even experts in their field benefit from new ideas and tools. Continuing to invest in yourself sends a valuable message about being a life-long learner and not becoming stagnant.
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH A TERRIFIC TEAM
A true sign of a confident leader is being able to hire people who are very talented. It seems logical that you would want to hire talented people, but less confident leaders may not want to be “shown up” by one of their direct reports. Rather than being intimidated by them, look for candidates that complement your skills and improve the effectiveness of your overall team. Maybe they are even stronger than you in some ways…learn from them.
ENCOURAGE WORK/LIFE BALANCE
The best way to encourage a work/life balance for others is to demonstrate one yourself. However, if for whatever reason you are unable to demonstrate that balance in your own life, you can still encourage others to do so. Get to know your team members and understand their family life as well as their passions outside of the workplace. Set expectations on availability and email responsiveness so your team can work together effectively, but do your best to respect the time they need to reenergize and meet family obligations. Many studies show that allowing a balance boosts productivity, engagement, and morale which pay back dividends during the times when work really needs to take precedence.
Some leaders believe being humble is a show of weakness or low self-esteem. On the contrary, humble leaders are associated with sincerity, fairness, and authenticity… traits that often generate higher levels of engagement and job performance from their teams. Humble leaders encourage others to speak up, respect differences of opinion, and champion the best ideas. They understand that they don’t always have to be the smartest person in the room. When things go wrong, humble leaders admit to their mistakes and take responsibility. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins calls out humility as one of the common traits of CEOs in companies that transitioned from average to superior performance.
With the labor market being so fluid right now, it’s important to do all you can to retain your talent. That starts with making sure you are someone people want to work for and with. No matter where you are in your leadership journey, take some time to reflect on who you are as a leader. Take all the lessons you’ve learned from your previous bosses and organizational leaders and package yourself into the best of them. Be the leader you always wanted to have and the one you want your developing employees to emulate.
Read the entire Thriving Magazine online here.