No head of a company wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I can’t wait to head into work and lead badly today.” But it happens.
People are placed into leadership roles every day without having learned the simple lesson that leadership is about people. And to lead exceptionally well, ask any successful leader, you have to take care of your people. That last statement may already have disqualified scores of managers.
To test out the idea that leaders do take care of their people first, and they do it to profitable ends, I have devised three questions for evaluating someone’s leadership skills — perhaps yours? Answering no, as the title of this article suggests, may indicate an urgent need for leadership development.
1. Do you truly understand what keeps your employees engaged?
Good leaders know what’s needed to keep their most talented employees happy and engaged. They spend considerable time developing culture and equipping their tribe to do great work. To that end, good leaders know data is crucial. They’ll consistently measure the core elements needed to attract, focus, and keep their most talented employees. It’s as simple as asking these additional questions:
- Do my employees know what is expected of them?
- Do my employees have the tools and resources they need to do their work right?
- Do my employees have the opportunity to do what they do best every day?
- Have my top performers received recognition or praise for doing good work lately?
If these questions look familiar, it’s because Gallup has been using them for more than 30 years as part of its rigorous employee engagement research that best predicts employee and team performance.
2. Do you instill hope in others?
So how do you lead and inspire employees during a crisis or major disruption? According to Wellbeing at Work: How to Build Resilient and Thriving Teams, by Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup, and Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief workplace scientist, one of the key elements employees need from leaders during challenging times is a sense of hope.
In times of crisis, there are two directions human nature can take: succumbing to fear, helplessness, and victimization, or moving toward self-actualization and engagement.
If you can’t yet grasp the idea of how to operationalize hope, there is a good starting point: communicate a clear plan of action in response to whatever crisis or challenge you may be facing next.
In 2020, 40 to 90 percent of employees in Gallup’s global database strongly agreed that their leadership communicated a clear plan of action.
People need the hope of knowing and seeing how their work affects your customers, mission and purpose, and the future of your organization. And in tough times, hope springs forth when employees don’t question the immediate future. Employees look to leadership for a crisis management plan — and to give them confidence that there is a way forward.
3. Do you make vulnerability an active part of your conversations?
This is the area where you will hear the most “no’s” to the question being asked. It’s not the tendency for most managers in traditional top-down, command-and-control hierarchies to want to self-disclose. The reason hasn’t so much to do with the usual argument that “it’s too soft for business.” Rather, traditional managers lack the emotional courage to speak their truth and make it safe for others to do the same.
When it comes to leadership competencies in work cultures of trust, vulnerability trumps both confidence and charisma. Over 53 million people have watched Dr. Brené Brown’s historic Ted Talk, The Power of Vulnerability. Since it went viral, vulnerability has established itself as a critical skill to develop as a leader.
One way to develop your vulnerability is through sharing stories. In their book Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others, leadership experts James Kouzes and Barry Posner stress the importance of leaders using storytelling to develop trust. The authors quote Howard Gardner, a renowned Harvard scholar, psychologist, and educator:
The artful creation and articulation of stories constitutes a fundamental part of the leader’s vocation. Stories speak to both parts of the human mind — it’s reason and emotion. And I suggest, further, that it is stories of identity –narratives that help individuals think about and feel who they are, where they come from, and where they are headed — that constitute the single most powerful weapon in the leader’s literary arsenal.
Recounting a story about a critical mistake, as an example, is one way to allow for a more naturally vulnerable conversation. When you plan the use and execution of storytelling, you’ll reap the advantages it has in building trust.