In preparing for one of my books, I put together leadership tips that I thought could be helpful. These tips were in the spirit of the learnings I’ve gained from my own experience as well as from working with thousands of leaders over the years. With so many people new in a leadership role these days, it is a good practice to share these tips on a regular basis.
I recently presented these at a leadership and ethics course at George Washington University and wanted to share them here as well:
Do not react to generalities too quickly (or at all). A generality is made when someone uses a term like “a lot,” “everyone,” or “people.” For example, a person may tell you, “Everyone is upset.” But is everyone really upset? Before acting on this information, ask the person for additional details. Who is included in “everyone”? The number of people who are truly upset influences the actions that are taken. Or, a person shares, “We are getting a lot of complaints.” Ask the person to share the number of complaints they have received. Taking the time to learn more will lead to a much more appropriate response…and sometimes to no response at all.
Require people to carry their own message. Do not accept a message that’s shared with you on behalf of someone else. This type of behavior happens in middle school; it should not happen in an organization. A person may approach you and share that they want to tell you something, but they cannot tell you who told them. My advice is to tell the person that unless it is about an illegal, unethical, and/or safety issue, the one who told them needs to carry their own message. In addition, ask the messenger what you can do to ensure that the person feels comfortable coming to you directly in the future. Allowing this behavior takes away from the development of others.
Do not use someone else’s name to get people to act or accept a message. This is another behavior that children typically exhibit. A child may tell a sibling they are going to tell their mother that the sibling’s room is a mess. Likewise, a leader might mention that administration really wants an area cleaned up better than it has been. It is best for a leader to own their own message. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are just that: exceptions. The person in leadership needs to develop the communication skills to explain the why behind what they are asking someone to do, and to deliver an uncomfortable message without using someone else’s name. If a business is slower than usual and it makes sense to send some staff home, the leader should be able to explain why they are taking this action rather than saying someone told them to do this.
Be careful not to discourage staff from making suggestions. Everyone has an ego, but when leaders don’t tame theirs, it can hinder innovation. If an employee approaches their boss with an idea or recommendation and is told, “I’ve already thought of that,” it may stop them from providing suggestions in the future. It is best to say thank you. Although the whole recommendation may not work, could some of it work? If so, consider implementing it. The goal is to build self-confidence in the workforce.
Do not wear out your leader(s) with negativity. It is said that it takes at least three positive comments to one negative or constructive comment for the receiver of the comments to feel good about the person sharing them. This goes both ways. Just as your leader should be sharing three positive comments for every negative with you, it’s great when you do the same with the leader. Think about the following questions: How often do you share positive things with your leader? Do you feel that you are someone your leader would like to hear from? In the last 90 days, how many positive comments have you made to your leader? How many thank-you notes have you written to your leader?
A person once shared with me that their leader did not meet with them very often. I replied that the leader may feel they are doing a good job and did not need to meet with them. Do not assume the leader does not care. I asked the person if they had met with their leader at all, and they said yes. I then asked, “Did you send a note to the leader thanking them for taking the time to meet, sharing what you got out of the meeting and what your follow-up would be, and letting the leader know they helped?” The answer was no. I said, “If you do that, I guarantee the boss will meet with you more often.” Leaders want to be helpful. Complimented behavior gets repeated.
In the coming weeks, you will read more tips like these. Most people have good intentions. Most have the will to be successful. The key is acquiring the skills. The points above are just some of the traits that separate great performers from good or subpar performers. They have been very helpful to me in my journey, and I hope you will find them helpful as well.