How to be a leader who matters

leadership Sep 15, 2020

If you are a leader reading this, know that you matter a great deal to the people you lead. The relationship with you has a direct impact on how people feel about going to work and how they show up at work. If the relationship is healthy and functional then people can show up as they are. If the relationship is not then people will show up ‘careful’.

I have been working with leaders as a trainer and coach for over 15 years now and I have really come to appreciate the value in connecting with people at a human, individual level. I read somewhere that statistics work for groups but do not apply to the individual. Instinctively we know this to be true.

Intention and Impact

John has a pretty good relationship with his boss, however; recently in the lobby of a hotel his boss passed him his completed appraisal form (there has been no discussion) and said ‘by the way, sign that’. The boss was on the phone at the time and missed the look on John’s face.

Mary says that it has all changed around here. You are no longer involved in decisions. They are made and you are simply expected to execute them.

Frank says my boss is actually pretty good and getting people involved and asking for their input. The thing is he already has his mind made up so it just feels like a game.’

Lucy has a new boss. He’s very different from her previous one. She used to enjoy a lot of autonomy and feels that she knows her stuff. Her new boss is very involved not just in telling her what needs to happen but how to do it as well. She needs to have a conversation with him but is unsure how to approach it.

All of these leaders may be positively intentioned in their actions but the felt impact is not.

The Individual Matters

Leaders who matter demonstrate that the people they lead matter to them at a human, individual level. Simply put, your manager must actually care about you. This means they care enough to know you as a person and they are vested in your professional success and your personal well-being.

Have a Conversation about the Relationship

I have always believed that there is a consciousness that needs to come into our way of being with our people. This means we are not communicating and building relationships blindly and by default. We are building those relationships consciously.

How do you do this? Have a conversation about the relationship.

It feels weird doesn’t it? It feels fluffy. Of course it is the soft stuff we find hard. Jennifer asked her team member ‘while I have you, is there anything you need from me that I am not giving you?’ Catherine looked uncomfortable and said ‘eh no, I’m fine’ and then a few 

seconds later she followed up with ‘well actually; when you are away on business can you let me know where you are? People ask where you are and half the time my answer is I don’t know. Also, it helps to know what time zone you are in for contacting you.’

It’s the small every day interactions that matter. Be present in them.

Be Present

Pay attention. This means dialling down the noise in your own head and switching off from whatever task you are doing on your phone or laptop. Just pause and tune in. Be present. For me this feels like a physical action as well as a mental one. Turn your body to face the person and shift your energy to giving that person attention. Is this possible all the time? I don’t know but a few minutes of quality attention makes a significant difference to the interaction.

Generate Thinking

True co-creation happens when we are both equal in the conversation. When we operate from a place of curiosity and ask questions for which we don’t have the answers. Be the leader who holds the other person as an expert in his or her own life and who knows that we all have more potential than we could ever realise in one life time. Engage in thinking conversations.

Be Open to Influence

Do you like to be right? We all do. We get a dopamine hit when we score a point. Research reveals that as human beings we can be ‘addicted to being right.’ But of course that means someone else is wrong and if it feels like a zero sum game then the relationship will not be sustainable.

Be Courageous

What would you do differently? I asked a leader who recently had a challenging conversation with a member of his team. His response: ‘I would have had the conversation sooner.’

Be courageous. Open the ‘can of worms’. When you know or sense that something is wrong, or performance is not where it needs to be, then don’t avoid the conversation. I think most of us struggle with this, especially if emotions are involved. But emotions won’t harm you. Unexpressed emotions will do far more damage. If you normalise honest, challenging conversations that are respectful, discovery orientated and with space for both parties to be in it, then chances are others will develop a comfort with them too.


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