Resolve to Lead Differently

01/10/2017 04:19 pm ET

By Michael Edgley, Business Consultant and Facilitator, HPWP Consulting

At this time of year, many of us make New Year’s resolutions to live a healthier lifestyle, break bad habits or to develop better relationships. These are important changes to be sure, but with one third (or more) of our time invested at the office, what about resolving to be a better leader?

As Baby Boomers retire and Millennials become major contributors in the workforce, leaders must adapt. Successful leaders will need to create a culture where employees feel respected and valued and where they can contribute their best work every day.

Looking ahead to the new year, here are 5 ways leaders can take action to lead differently.

1. Redefine your role as a leader: In my work as a coach and trainer of a unique leadership approach, I find that leaders at all levels are spending the majority of their time on administrative and technical tasks and very little time leading. This reveals a focus on check-the-box activities and it’s an epidemic in leadership ranks. If you want to lead in a more meaningful way, start with establishing a new role for leadership.

Leaders should be focused on how to train, develop, coach, motivate and inspire team members to perform at their very best. Eighty percent of what a company does can be done equally as well by the competition, therefore your competitive advantage is the other 20% which is your people. Yet we don’t spend enough time developing them. We get so caught-up running the business that we overlook our most valuable asset, our people. When we focus on developing people, the result is improvement in every metric. Invest in your team and they will invest in you.

2. Engage and involve team members: Do you ever think or say things like “I wish the team were more engaged”, “If they would only do more” or “They only do enough to get by”? The question high performance leaders ask is “How can I involve the team to make our business better”?

I don’t know why, but as soon as you put a leadership title on someone they think they must control everything or have all the answers. The majority of the workforce is smart, trustworthy people who actually know the job better than their leader. The vast majority want to be successful and want the company to perform. When problems arise, it makes sense to turn to the team to find the solution.

Recently, I was helping a client achieve their goal of creating a high performance culture. Some initiatives were going well, but they were having trouble in two important areas—communication and team morale. The remedy was to create employee action teams with a specific and measurable charter to address these problems. Once the employee teams completed their assignments, not only did they come up with better solutions than what management would have, but they also wanted the next assignment they could work on.

Think of it like this: participation breeds commitment and commitment breeds success. When you involve people they are more likely to be committed to the success of the project versus just being compliant.

3. Communicate openly: In nearly every company where my team and I work, we ask what areas need to be improved. Communication is always in the top three. If you want to be a better leader, start with how you communicate and share information.

Traditional leaders tend to keep the team informed on a “need to know basis”, but this only keeps them guessing or making assumptions about what is really going on. In contrast, be open and direct with the real challenges and issues in the business—don’t keep secrets. When the team sees that you are open and honest with them, they will be more open and honest with you. Share information freely and as a result you will find that people will step up to help solve problems.

Several years ago, I was challenged with leading an operation that was struggling to be profitable. As I started to understand why, I noticed that there was no discipline around the dollars being spent compared to budget. As I met with the team, I found that no one was aware of the financial state of the organization. By having open and honest communication about the financial information with them, it changed the behavior of leaders and team members alike. As a result we took a struggling, non-profitable location to being profitable in less than a year.

4. Show you believe in people by setting high expectations: At one time or another, most of us have been guilty of saying, “Just do the best you can”. When a project fails or a deadline is missed the response is “Well, I did the best I could”, which is exactly what we asked them to do. The reality is, people are capable of far more and when challenged, will do more. Far too often we expect the minimum performance or status quo. However, when you challenge people and convey your heartfelt belief in their abilities, they will rise to the occasion.

I was guilty of saying “Just do the best you can” not only to my team, but to my kids. I didn’t realize that my words were contradicting my true belief in their potential to be successful. As I began to challenge them and convey my belief in them, not only did they start to do better—they excelled. As they became successful, they had the desire to continue and were motivated by their accomplishments. It was a tough lesson to learn as a parent and a leader.

When you focus on your true purpose as a leader—to train, develop, coach, motivate and inspire—your expectations are far more than “Do the best you can” and your team will appreciate you for it.

5. Get to know your team: Every day we ask people to do remarkable things to make our organizations successful. We ask them to work extra hours, increase productivity, and meet daily goals while short-staffed. Too often, we do all this without really knowing them as a person. There is nothing that devalues a person more than feeling like they are just a number.

The people who work for us have real things going on in their lives outside of work. They have families, financial challenges, illness, and crises from time-to-time. If you want to be a more impactful leader and create a positive environment where people want to come to work, invest in getting to know your team. Find out who they are, what drives and motivates them, what goals they have and what things they enjoy doing outside of work. When people see that you care, they are willing to go to great lengths to support the company.

You can start this by having one-on-one meetings where team members talk about what is on their mind. It is not a meeting where leaders talk about what they want. This is an opportunity to listen and ask questions to get to know people on a deeper level, creating bonds of trust.

Being a leader is hard work. There are many different hats we wear on a daily basis while continually looking ahead at the things we can be doing to be better. You’re going to lead anyway, so why not lead in a way that brings you satisfaction, is more effective and builds up people around you? You can. So why not resolve to make the coming year great?

About the Author: Michael Edgley, Business Consultant and Facilitator at HPWP Consulting, has effectively lead teams for over 30 years with a focus on operational performance and workplace culture. He’s deeply committed to helping leaders achieve results by engaging team members.

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