New leaders often face the combined challenges of continuing as individual contributors while assuming responsibility for others’ work. It’s never an easy balance, but there are certain insights that can help you keep a healthy perspective.
First, remember that you’re not responsible for having all the right answers. Top-down management, where frontline leaders “told” their workers what to do, went out with early 20th-century manufacturing. Today’s employees are “knowledge workers,” and treating them like adults, in terms of autonomy and accountability, is key to their on-the-job performance and professional growth and development.
Next, remember that Gen Y millennials (the 45-and-under crowd) and Gen Z zoomers (the 25-and-under crowd) are world history’s most studied generational cohorts. We know what they want: career and professional development are at the top of their list, along with an ethical employer, and a management team that cares about them personally and whom they trust.
Here’s how to apply these core values to your workplace.
When it comes to leadership development, research Robert Greenleaf’s 1970 essay “The Servant Leader.” Yes, it’s a half-century old, but it’s more relevant today than ever, thanks to the challenges posed by the COVID pandemic and remote work.
Selfless leadership stems from an unyielding willingness to serve others; servant leaders value people for who they are, not just for what they can give to an organization. They tend not to promote themselves but recognize others’ achievements publicly, they listen with their eyes and hearts in addition to their ears and they build trust and respect into their relationships with their teammates and customers. Such “soft skills” related to emotional intelligence are especially critical in remote working environments.
Further, remember the wisdom often attributed to American poet Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” In other words, pierce people’s hearts as well as their minds. That’s what great leadership is all about. That’s what makes you someone’s favorite boss. And that’s how you drive the highest levels of performance and productivity: People perform best when they want to, not because they have to.
Establish a habit of providing less formal, more frequent feedback in real-time. Employees thrive on praise and recognition for a job well done. But they likewise look to you to help them develop professionally and hone their craft. Therefore, praise in public, when warranted, and remember that recognition is free and serves as the “psychic income” that helps everyone stay motivated and take smart risks throughout their careers (which, in turn, drives creativity and innovation).
Next, when delivering constructive feedback, help your employees see the benefit of changing for their own sake.
For example, open your conversation by sharing something like, “Allow me to lend a hand with this one. It’s a bit trickier than it initially looks, but no worries—you’ll master this as you become more familiar with it” or “Let’s partner together on this one to see if I can help to add some additional perspective to your final submission.” Your goal: Help others build their sense of self-confidence. Help them perform at higher levels and value your input as their career mentor and coach.
Ensure that your team comes from gratitude, respect, and selflessness by stating your expectations clearly.
“Everyone, I want us all to be able to do our very best work every day with peace of mind. I look for role model leadership in all of you. And I want you to focus on measuring your achievements and accomplishments by quantifying your results in terms of increased revenue, decreased expenses or saved time. Likewise, I want you to stand out as a rarity among your peers in terms of customer service and making this organization a better place for our customers and your co-workers. My job is to help you establish and reach your career and professional development goals while helping you master your craft. Your job is to help me be that resource to you.”
Leadership is the greatest gift the workplace offers because it allows you to touch others’ lives and help them build their careers. Funnel your activities through these three priorities of leadership, communication, and teambuilding to ensure you’re building strong and healthy teams ready to pay it forward and serve as role models for others. That’s what exceptional leadership looks like in the 21st-century workplace.