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Podcast: Leadership for Humans

Today's post comes to us courtesy of board member China Gorman, who was also kind enough to join me for a podcast on the same topic.  Read the post, then listen in on my conversation with China at the bottom of this post!

Leadership is tough. No matter how you look at it, you're responsible for the performance of your department, your location, your division, your subsidiary, or your company. And you're responsible for the people. The humans who, under your leadership, have to exceed customer expectations, collaborate with each other, achieve performance metrics, and represent your brand wherever they go.

There are a great many studies, books, courses, websites, publications, and coaches - all dedicated to helping leaders get the most out of their employees. But I look at it another way.

I think leadership is about being human in a world of humans. It's not about getting the best from your employees. It's about creating human relationships that enable the best with your employees. You might accuse me of wordsmithing here, but it seems very clear: leadership is most effective when it creates real human relationships, not just boss/subordinate “work” relationships. And this isn't a generational thing. It isn't about catering to snowflakes. It's about performance. More effective personal, human performance leading to more successful corporate, business performance.

Every consultant in this arena has a formula. Every author in this arena has a formula. Every researcher. Every guru. And, of course, I do too. It's simple. It's doable. It's proven. And it works. In order to be a leader of humans, you need to do three human things unfailingly:

1. Be fair and trustworthy
2. Be approachable and personal
3. Provide and acknowledge meaning

Be fair and trustworthy
Your employees - and all other stakeholders - need to know that you are completely fair and politically free when making decisions. And they need to be able to rely on your word: you mean what you say and you say what you mean. You follow through on commitments. You are reliable and honest. Period.

Be approachable and personal
Your employees - and all other stakeholders - need to be able to connect with you. Don't be that leader in the elevator who looks uncomfortable, doesn't know anyone's name, and won't look anyone in the eye. Introduce yourself to people you don't know - in elevators, meetings, hallways, employee parking lots, cafeterias, etc. And be in those places. Don't be invisible. Be accessible. And be personal. Know peoples' names. Ask about their families - and remember their answers so that when you see them next time you can ask follow-up questions. Smile. Look your colleagues in the eye with a pleasant expression on your face. Make yourself available by walking the halls. Keep your office door open. (I save some time on my calendar every week to “walk around” and just bump in to colleagues and check-in to see how they are doing.) Being approachable means making yourself available for random and unscheduled interactions. And when those interactions happen, be present, be open, and listen.

Provide and acknowledge meaning
When stakeholders know the big picture - “what we're fighting for”, when they know how what they do contributes to the whole, how customers respond to their products and/or services, when things are on track or when they aren't, when they are connected humanly and emotionally to their work and their colleagues - good things happen for them, for the business, and for your customers.

None of these are new ideas. They aren't revolutionary. But they produce the kind of outcomes that include higher quality, fewer mistakes, higher engagement, lower turnover, higher sales, higher profitability, greater competitiveness, more innovation… this list goes on and on. Everything you measure that you want to go up will go up; everything you measure that you want to down will go down.

To be clear, I'm not advocating returning to dated management models that cast leaders in the role of “parent” and employees in the role of “children.” Not at all. I'm advocating creating personal, human, adult relationships. Relationships based on trust, openness and shared meaning. Ultimately, unfailing commitment to these behaviors will transform your own leadership effectiveness as well as your organization's performance.

Listen in on my conversation with China about building trust in the workplace using the player below.

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