Matt Tenney, Contributor
To lead well requires a mixture of hard and soft skills. Leaders need to be able to solve problems effectively, delegate with authority, and handle sensitive situations with tact and diplomacy.
At the same time, leaders need to be able to engage employees in their work and motivate them to perform well.
To be an effective leader also requires a strong commitment to the organization’s mission and the ability to translate the vision to their teams and connect that vision to the work employees do, uniting team members with a shared sense of purpose and fostering a supportive, collaborative work environment.
A leader’s ability to achieve these things is linked to how well they relate to and understand those they lead. It is much easier for a leader to accomplish this when they forge authentic, trust-based relationships with their employees and make it their goal to help employees succeed.
Helping employees succeed is actually one of the most important roles of leaders and the key to leading well.
The key to leadership is inspiring employees to do great work. Leaders inspire greatness in their teams through good communication, clearly and consistently communicating culture, maintaining a positive work environment, and fostering a satisfying employee experience that makes employees love what they do.
In this article, we’ll explore what it takes to lead well and look at ways leaders can inspire their teams to perform at their best.
The Ability to Inspire Greatness
The most important job of a leader and the key to being a great leader is to inspire greatness in their employees. It may sound like a daunting task, but it’s really much easier than most leaders think.
So many people who move into management positions do not realize that being able to inspire their teams is essential to excelling in their roles. It’s not just about knowing your job duties and checking management boxes; it’s about being truly driven to help your teams do great work.
This means leaders should work continuously to create the necessary conditions for their employees to do great work and help them identify and remove obstacles to doing great work.
Below, we’ll discuss ways leaders can bring out the best in their team members.
Maintaining Good Communication
Leaders set the tone for strong communication by being approachable and open to suggestions. Clearly communicating goals, objectives, and expectations provides the clarity all employees need to do their jobs well and with self-confidence.
For communication to be the most effective, it should be honest and respectful, and it should be mutually beneficial. Leaders should be skilled at receiving communications from employees and responding to them in a timely manner, and in a way that makes them feel truly heard.
Listening is just as, if not more, important. You can schedule regular meetings, coaching sessions, and one-to-one meetings every day, but, if you aren’t actively listening to your employees, these tools will not help them connect to their work.
To build trust, leaders need to really listen to their employees and respond to what they are saying in the moment to get the most out of their communications.
Leaders maintain healthy communication by providing job clarity, regular feedback, recognition of employees’ achievements, and coaching to help them succeed.
When employees are unsure about what is expected of them in their roles, it creates a situation where they experience conflict on a daily basis about their duties and responsibilities.
Lack of clarity can lead to issues with engagement, morale, performance, productivity, and retention. In situations where job responsibilities and duties may shift regularly, clarity becomes even more critical to ensuring things run smoothly.
It’s essential for employees to know what is expected of them, have new duties and areas of responsibility clarified for them as situations change, and be made aware that the work they do is seen by leadership.
Clearly communicating expectations, through regular one-to-one conversations, for example, can be a great way to clarify job duties and expectations.
Many leaders know that employees need feedback to do their best in their jobs. In fact, a lack of regular feedback ranks high on the list of reasons employees are leaving their jobs these days.
Employees need feedback on a regular basis to excel in their jobs and build the kind of engagement needed for retention. It provides not only job clarity, but also helps employees course correct when needed, develop an improvement mindset, and build confidence in their work.
The goal of this feedback is to help employees to do their best work, do it well, and better serve their co-workers. When done correctly, it should also boost employees’ level of job satisfaction and overall well-being.
But, to be most effective, it needs to be a two-way street, with leadership being open to feedback from employees. This gives employees a voice and helps them to build trust with leadership, which increases employee loyalty.
Good leaders will elicit regular, consistent feedback from their teams which they should respond to in a timely manner. The goal is really the same: through feedback, employees help their leaders to do their best work, do it well, and better serve the team.
Recognition should always be part of the feedback leaders provide to employees.
Recognition is such a powerful tool for building engagement because it meets a core human need for both the employee and the manager. Recognizing employees for their accomplishments shows them not only that leadership is paying attention, but that they also value the work employees do.
For recognition to be most effective, it should be given often, and it should be specific so employees know the work they do in their roles is seen and appreciated.
Acknowledging the impact of employees’ work through frequent recognition can be a highly effective way of engaging and retaining them because it improves their employee experience and motivates them to keep doing great work.
Part of a good system of feedback includes coaching and mentoring employees through regular 1 to 1 meetings to help them do their best work and live their best lives.
Coaching and mentoring employees not only helps them to improve, but also helps them to develop an improvement mindset and encourages them to grow. Leaders can provide actionable steps that help employees have a more satisfying work experience, maintain a good work/life balance, improve their well-being, and grow professionally.
Coaching can improve employees’ current job performance by helping them identify obstacles that may be preventing them from doing their best work. It also helps leaders develop their self-awareness and build trust with employees.
Mentoring employees can help them develop and grow in their careers and set goals to work toward. This can be a great way for leaders to build succession pipelines.
By providing job clarity, regular feedback, frequent recognition, and coaching and mentoring opportunities that help employees grow, leaders can inspire them to do great work.
In addition to these methods of communicating with employees, there’s another important way that leaders communicate with employees that helps to build engagement and cultural buy-in.
Clearly and Consistently Communicating Culture
Communicative leaders build consensus around a shared vision and inspire their teams to work according to this shared vision. Part of a leader’s job is to communicate information about the company’s culture, clearly articulating and modeling the organization’s core values, mission, and vision.
Good organizational cultures are intentional, and good leaders are intentional about communicating organizational culture to their teams. Communicating culture provides clarity for team members about the organization’s expectations of them, both in terms of the work they do and their behaviors.
Culture plays a critical role in both attracting and retaining top talent. It’s also crucial to helping employees see deeper meaning in their work, which is something workers care about in today’s job market.
Glassdoor found that 77% of workers consider a company’s culture before applying. Another study showed that 70% of employees say they wouldn’t work for a company that didn’t have a strong purpose.
A strong organizational culture will provide the meaning employees seek, and leaders help employees recognize this purpose by clearly and consistently communicating the organization’s culture and values to employees and helping them recognize the connections between the work they do and the impact of that work on the lives of others.
We recently sat down with Dave Gordon, author of TIP: A Simple Strategy to Inspire High Performance and Lasting Success, and discussed the impact leaders can have when they communicate culture and demonstrate values for their teams.
Maintain a Positive Work Environment
When leaders regularly communicate the organization’s culture and model its core values, it provides guidance for employees in their interactions with co-workers, which helps to maintain a positive work environment.
This helps to keep morale high and combats toxicity. Toxic work environments fueled the Great Resignation, with many who left their jobs citing toxic work environments as the top reason for doing so.
Lisa L. Baker, the founder of Ascentim LLC, says leaders can address and prevent toxic situations in the workplace by clearly and consistently communicating cultural norms, which clarifies expectations, guides employee behaviors and actions, and ensures values alignment.
Baker has outlined a five-step process known as “The 5 Cs”:
Cultural norms and expectations must be clear to everyone. It’s equally important to demonstrate what is and is not acceptable behavior as well as the consequences for toxic behaviors.
Building meaningful relationships with your team and others inside and outside the organization is essential. Leaders need to create an inclusive environment that has an “open-door” policy, so the team feels comfortable sharing their experiences.
If you see something, say something. Too often we hold in negative emotions and allow them to fester. Be willing to have the crucial conversations that are essential to healthy relationships and work environments.
You cannot conquer what you’re unwilling to confront. Don’t put off difficult conversations. Swift action is necessary to prevent negative behaviors from creating a toxic culture.
Decide what action you will take if someone who is causing toxicity in the organization does not respond positively to culture, connection, communication, or confrontation. It’s better to terminate one toxic person than to lose many good people because of that individual.
Leaders who follow the 5 Cs are not only providing clarity and reinforcing cultural norms for their employees, but they are also ensuring a positive work environment in which their team members can thrive and do great work.
Fostering a Satisfying Employee Experience
Employee experience refers to an employee’s journey with an organization and includes every interaction that happens during the employee lifecycle, as well as the experiences that involve an employee’s role, work environment, manager, and well-being.
Employee experience plays a significant role in employee motivation, employee engagement, and employee retention, but that’s not all.
When an organization provides a positive employee experience, they see improvements in customer satisfaction, greater innovation, and generate 25% higher profits than organizations that do not provide a positive employee experience.
Meaningful work, job clarity, opportunities for professional development, autonomy, an inclusive, supportive work environment, regular recognition of contributions, healthy feedback between leadership and employees, a good work/life balance, and trust-based working relationships contribute to a positive employee experience, paving the way for exceptional performance.
The employee experience starts before the employee is even hired, so it is important to ensure you start things off right. Recruiting and hiring for cultural fit and implementing onboarding programs that help to establish clarity and communicate organizational culture can improve an employee’s experience with the organization significantly.
The Key to Great Leadership: Servant Leadership
If a leader’s primary job is to inspire their teams to do great work, the best leaders are servant leaders. Servant leaders motivate and inspire teams through listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community.
Authenticity is central to servant leadership. Servant leaders work continuously to build strong, authentic relationships with their followers. This can create a tremendous amount of cultural buy-in and contributes to a positive employee experience, high employee engagement, and high employee satisfaction.
When you incorporate the principles and tenets of servant leadership, you are setting the stage for high-performance teams who are invested in their work and in achieving the organization’s vision.
And, in the process, you will get to the heart of leadership, which is providing the ideal circumstances for your team to do great work and inspiring them to do great work.
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Matt Tenney is an active CEO who aspires to create the best workplace culture in the world. Matt is also the author of Serve To Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom, and The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence. Matt is frequently invited to present keynote speeches at leadership conferences and meetings. His TEDx Talk has been viewed over 1,000,000 times since January, 2020.