Leading Through Learning
Being a leader is much more than organizing resources, executing on plans or knowing where to squeeze out the latest profit. A person responsible for positional leadership has the arduous task of managing their team’s contribution to overall profits and sustainability while supporting the roles and individual needs of their employees. If you’re doing it well, it shouldn’t be easy. In fact for most of us it will be a role that we never quite master, we will always be a student on some level. Along the way though, we can observe other leaders, learn from personal experiences and discover our own genuine way of navigating the work days of the teams that have been entrusted to us. Hopefully in turn, we will pass on what we know, like being part of a sharing community. As you think about your leadership role, here are some concepts worth contemplation:
Don’t Let Profits Be Your Sole Driver
Doing anything solely for profit is an empty pursuit. It leads to compromised business decisions and a bad case of burnout for both yourself and your employees. Going into business exclusively on a profit based agenda isn’t sustainable. It will cause you and your employees to eventually wonder what you’re really working for. Instead, let purpose and meaning drive you. These elements will give you the required endurance and camaraderie you need when times are tough.
Keep Your Promises
If your employees can’t rely on you to be true to your word, their natural default is to question all of your actions and motives. Just think about it, when was the last time you felt immense respect for someone you couldn’t rely on? Don’t make promises to your employees or partners that you can’t keep, and when you do make promises, do everything in your power to be true to your word. Not doing so kills your credibility, making it harder for people to respect you. As a leader you can’t operate business effectively without trust and respect.
Be Competent, Be Committed
The job of today’s leader isn’t to place oneself in a distant, hierarchy based position. People want to believe in the person they report to and we know that one can only truly believe in what they know or understand. As a leader, we owe our employees three main things:
1) Competency in our role
2) Commitment to relationships with our folks
3) A communicated vision for what our teams are working toward
Remember, your job is to protect and serve your employees so they can be as productive as possible. Keep a “people first” mentality and your employees will remain hard working for you and for themselves.
Focus on Development
Everyone is capable of continuous growth – even leaders. Hopefully for all of us, the day we slow down learning about our profession or business is the day we retire. There is nothing that will benefit you, your employees, and your company more than a focus on development. The key consideration here is to provide a variety of options and opportunities for learning. The more varied the offerings, the more likely your success rate will be. Some folks would love a lunch and learn on one of your new product offerings, others would prefer a book study and still others would like seminars or certification courses. Point being, you want to do everything you can to get your employees revved up about their professional and personal development. It’s another way to show you care, and that you are truly invested in them as an employee and an individual.
Of equal importance is your own development. Don’t ask folks to stretch and grow if you are unwilling to do so yourself. When you show that you are committed to your personal betterment, your employees will be likely to do the same.
Do Not Wait For Feedback
Don’t wait until one angry employee finally shows up at your desk with a list of complaints. By the time your employee has reached your desk, you can bet that the poison of poor morale has been permeating your office for weeks or months. Instead of being reactive, choose to be out ahead of it. Ask your employees what they think of you, the direction of the company, office politics, etc.
Keep the doorway to communication open. Expect respect while allowing for dissenting views and opinions. Sometimes that’s where the healthiest outcomes and decisions derive from. You want your team to understand that their input isn’t an effort in futility, but rather a respected opportunity for them to express their creativity and problem solving abilities. You are not bound by a contract to implement every suggestion or solution, but you can show you are committed to listening with an open mind. Granted, this kind of cross-status communication takes a lot more effort on the part of the leader. But, your willingness to explain your business rationale, to listen to others perspectives and deal effectively with differences allows you to reap the benefits of having a more genuine work life and relationships. And after all none of us, leaders included, wants to park their personality or opinions at the door. We all want to be heard.
Continually learning as you lead can mean the difference between mediocrity and excellence. Leaders of substance propel their businesses and engage their employees. They realize that they are meant to serve their folks, not lord over them, and because of that mindset they can rally an entire workforce around their purpose and brand. Leaders of substance aren’t just born; they are taught and actively work to train themselves. If you want to lead a company, and do so as effectively as possible take the time to help build your employees up. Perhaps Lao Tzu sums it up most eloquently, “A leader is best when people barely know she exists, when her work is done, her aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” If you ask me, that’s something really worth striving for!
About the Author: Amanda Andrade is the Chief People Officer for Veterans United Home Loans — Fortune magazine’s 21st best medium workplace and one the fastest growing companies in the United States according to INC magazine. Amanda has led human resource organizations in both public and private sectors, serving employees in diverse work settings, focusing on environment and behavior in the workplace. Connect with Amanda on Google+.
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