American poet Maya Angelou famously said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” In that simple wisdom lies the heart of inspirational leadership and becoming a “favorite boss” to those you lead.
Great bosses do this
Think about it: When people are asked to describe the best boss they’ve ever had, they typically share things like:
- She made me feel like my opinion mattered. I had a seat at the table on her team, and I’d love the opportunity to work for her again.
- She cared about my career and professional development and was sincere in wanting to help me get ahead in my career.
- He challenged me to do things that I didn’t really think I was ready for. He seemed to have more faith in me than I had in myself.
Great bosses care
What do all these descriptions have in common? They speak to the leader’s character and caring. In other words, it’s not so much what a great leader does so much as who that great leader is in terms of their ultimate influence on someone’s career. Beingness trumps doingness in the world of great leadership, and in that, our society has it backwards. We constantly focus on what we are doing to hire new staffers, retain top talent, cut down on turnover and the like. In fact, we should simply be focusing on who we are being relative to those very same challenges to achieve greater results.
As such, many of us feel like we’re chasing our tails with our hair on fire (and that goes for personal and family relationships as well). Here’s a key truth that will serve you well throughout your management career: Great bosses have character. They care about you personally. And they respect you enough to give you the space to find your own unique way of contributing to the team and the organization. In that sense, there is a calmness about them and a sense of authenticity and sincerity in what they do. In a very real sense, their character and caring drive the things they do and not vice versa.
This is borne out in the research that shows that Gen Y millennials (43 years old and under) and Gen Z zoomers (roughly 25 and under) cite career and professional development and the desire to work for an ethical company where the management team cares about them personally as two of their top five priorities.
5 ways to show you care—and become an exemplary leader
But no matter what age group you lead, communication is key. Following are five strategies that may help you become a leader others emulate and who employees want to work for.
1. A desire on the leader’s part to praise in public, censure in private.
2. A willingness to engage generously in employee recognition and celebration—not winning a trophy for simply showing up, but for true achievement.
3. Weekly one-on-one meetings with direct reports and biweekly staff meetings with the full team to give everyone an opportunity to share what they’re working on and where their challenges lie, and likewise to celebrate successes.
4. Quarterly one-on-one achievement meetings to discuss goal progression and to course correct, while attempting to match individual career interests to on-the-job stretch assignments and similar opportunities.
5. Annual performance reviews that capture the individual’s accomplishments and tie them to their career and professional development goals.
Great leadership is never beyond your reach. It’s often as simple as teaching your employees to come from gratitude, making the space for them to motivate themselves and ensuring that they know you care. Remember, you cannot give away something that you don’t already possess. Give the gift of peace of mind. Make space for your employees to reinvent themselves in light of your department’s or organization’s changing needs. Have their backs. And measure yourself by the simple standard established by Maya Angelou: It’s how you made them feel—through your character and caring—that they’ll remember most about your leadership influence as they progress through their own careers.