What does it really take to be a good leader?
I know that I’ve listened to many leadership lectures growing up and still do to this day as part of my own continuing self-development. Whether I was actively leading people or not, I was still taught the “birth pains” of becoming a leader in today’s world. When you search Google for “The Top Ten Qualities You Should Have As A Leader” you run into the same seemingly cliched phrases over and over again. Advice like, “be a good listener” and my personal favorite, “don’t talk down to your employees, make them feel important.” Not to say that this commentary on leadership is all futile. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It has become our go-to answer to all things management, but do we really know what this form of leadership entails? By focusing our growth in the areas that we so easily overlook, we can take our businesses to the places we truly wish to see them go … but only if we change our mindset on what it REALLY means to be a leader of people, not just employees. So, let’s look at the two concepts listed above and expand on them to the degree that could have the capability of allowing all of us to think a bit differently about leadership and management.
#1 Be a Good listener
This is indeed key in the world of business and good leadership. However, it is often easy to listen to a certain extent and then quickly consider whatever the person is saying to be either helpful or irrelevant. There will always be people that have A LOT to say, sometimes too much. But to really listen means to not turn your ears off once you start to get bored or annoyed. It doesn’t mean waiting patiently for the other person to stop talking so that it’s your turn. Listening as a manager means that you are in a mindset where you’re prepared to look from all perspectives, to be wrong or even be pleasantly surprised. The key is to stick around and let the conversation unfold. That’s where the gold is.
In the arena of listening I would ask you this: Have you thought about a change in your perspective? If your employee comes to you with a complaint, are you really seeing it from their point of view? Are you reflecting on times when you were not in management and you may have faced a similar issue? At that time, what did you want from your boss? Probably not fake nods and half-listening ears with droopy, uninterested eyes. You wanted to be talking to a real person – someone who had walked in your shoes before and really understood what you were dealing with. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that it’s going to be hard to relate from time to time, but as a manager it’s your responsibility to fit into as many shoes as you can and take a stroll in them.
Being willing to change your perspective will help you understand your team members on a deeper level. Once you can truly learn to listen to your team, you gain a strong sense of trust which will ultimately lead to more efficient, productive work because you’ve created an environment in which your employees feel heard and understood. Being heard doesn’t mean getting what you want. As a manager this is important to communicate to your staff. However, being heard DOES mean that your opinions will be respected and you, as manager, will commit to listening wholeheartedly and give everyone a voice within your company.
#2 Make Sure Your Team Knows that They’re Important
I remember playing on my high school volleyball team like it was yesterday. I played the position of “setter” which if you’re unfamiliar with volleyball, means that every second hit would come to me and I would “set up” our hitter for a great spike to win the point. There were times when I ran all the way across the court to get that second hit and give my hitter a chance to win a match point. I remember thinking, “what would the hitters do without the setters? They’d never look any good without us!” And you know what? That’s true!
So, to put this analogy into perspective, the hitter is the manager. A lot of times they win the points, receive the praise and look good in front of the crowd. In this instance, the setter is the hard working, under-appreciated employee and the manager takes the credit. But, it’s crucial to understand that the setter develops a certain skill to be able to give the hitter a perfect hit and make their team look amazing. In the work environment, you can’t be a manager without your employees and likewise, you cannot be a high-performing employee without solid management. Talking down to your employees makes them feel as if their role in the company is not as important as yours. Of course, we all understand that certain roles have higher pay grades, greater responsibilities and tougher consequences, but no one job is more important than the next. Your team members will gain a higher respect for you when they feel that you are validating their job descriptions just as much as your own. Leaders must foster this kind of environment, the kind that says, “I care about my job and my success but what I care most about is seeing my team reach their own personal goals. If they reach those, then I know I’m doing my job correctly.”
This “servant leadership” attitude is desperately needed amongst management today. We need people who are willing to sacrifice their comfort, their stability and their entitlement in order to make their companies as successful as they can be. We need managers who will take a stand for their employees and invest time in them even when it seems useless. We need managers who will take the necessary time to listen to the concerns of those around them and be willing to walk in their shoes. We need managers who do not consider themselves to be more important than the people who work for them. Most of all, we need managers who will fight for the success of their co-workers and in turn, fight for the integrity of their companies.
At VoiceNation, we try our hardest to understand one another in both a work and personal perspective. Whether it’s our friendly and knowledgeable ladies in billing, the creative geniuses on our video team, or our reputable call center experts, everyone makes an effort to express how much we all need one another in order to do our job to the best of our abilities. We’re all learning and growing together with a “no man left behind” mentality and we want to share our knowledge in creating a healthy work environment with the world! So whether your a manager or not, remember that everyone who surrounds you, day in and day out, plays an important role in your future successes.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” -John Quincy Adams