How do we develop systems and procedures to bring out each player’s best in the corporate playground? By creating practical leadership principles and habits of execution.
Leadership will always be the bread and butter of business because it centers us around a common theme and mission. Much like the philosophy of the armed forces and Navy Seals((Psychology Today: Top 5 Tips from Navy SEALs on Exceptional Leadership)), leaders are made, not born. The same is true in business.
Leaders aren’t inherently any different from those they lead regarding their physiology or body composition. Still, they do possess other characteristics and habits that may not be apparent to the naked eye.
Leaders don’t need to have a leadership title to be leaders. Every employee of a company should have to think and act like a leader in some way, shape, or form. So what separates the good leaders from the great leaders?
Great leaders lead by example.
The classic “monkey see monkey do” mentality refers to both the primitive brain structures that help us form daily habits and the specific neuronal networks in the brain—mirror neurons((Psychology Today: A Look in the Mirror Neuron: Empathy and Addiction))—that allow us to observe others’ activity. When we watch others perform tasks, these neuronal systems become active and fire similar brain regions in our brains that would be needed to perform similar tasks and actions.
Actions will always speak louder than words in the workplace because actions lead to execution and results. Knowledge is useless without application, which is why authentic leaders choose to lead with their actions and not just their words.
1. Bring the Best Version of Yourself
To get the best out of your people, you need to get the best out of yourself first. The doctor who tells the patient to stop smoking right after they stepped out of the office for a cigarette is not only a hypocrite; they’re also setting a poor example for their patient to follow.
Anyone who is a parent knows how this equation plays out in the long run with raising children((Psych Central: Modeling Behavior for Children Has Long-Lasting Effects)). The things you tell your kids not to do end up becoming a habit of theirs because they’re too busy watching you do it while avoiding what you told them not to do.
The same is true for leaders in the workplace. If you expect your employees to be on time, ready to go, and at work early, you better be willing to set the example for them. Not just once, but repeatedly over time. Practicing what you preach will build trust and benefit company culture.
These coveted office relationships built out of trust and respect are reciprocally advantageous for the overall health and well being of the respective parties. A recent Gallup poll uncovered evidence suggesting direct reports experience a 15% greater chance of thriving and overall improved well-being due to their immediate supervisors having higher levels of well being((Gallup: Well-Being Is Contagious (for Better or Worse))).
Company culture is continuously sliding on a spectrum due to the continually evolving array of actions, outcomes, and emotions mixed into a business setting. This concept is vital for a multitude of reasons.
Leaders Should Set the Example
It’s the leader’s responsibility to set an example for their coworkers. If you’ve ever been in a situation where someone tells you one thing and does the complete opposite, you’ve experienced this disconnect. It’s unsettling at best and subsequently causes you to lose trust in that individual.
Change Starts With Leaders
Leaders must be the change they wish to see in their organization and business. Company initiatives may sound great in theory, but they rarely take hold and grow if people don’t support it through taking action. Checking a box is far more comfortable than changing behaviors.
Leaders Motivate Others to Improve
When you show changes through your actions, it’s far easier for your team members and coworkers to do the same. Improved collaboration and communication through teamwork is estimated to increase employee productivity by nearly 20-25%((McKinsey & Company: The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies)).
If teamwork can genuinely make the dream work, leaders of the future need to realize the importance of integration, taking action, and supporting your company initiatives through high-level communication.
2. Be an Effective Communicator
Communication is the foundation for success in business and life. Nothing noteworthy gets done without effective communication, but not all communication is created equally.
Humans are social animals. There’s no way to argue around it, which is why communication and honest conversation can be one of the most efficient ways to lead your people and business to success.
Communication is so much more than the words we use((Journal of Advances in Medical Education and Professionalism: The impact of the teachers’ non-verbal communication on success in teaching)). It’s how we use our bodies and make facial expressions, which can hide in the words we say and choose not to say.
Choosing not to say something is also a decision made, which could have dire consequences for those who listen well enough to pick up on it. True leaders listen far more than they speak, but they listen to understand and find ways to solve problems with follow-up comments and questions, which is a great way to lead by example.
High-level leaders understand the importance of communication, pair it together with associated soft skills of listening intentionally, asking questions, and using simple gestures for approval, such as a head nod or smile.
In a world full of digital distractions, chatbots, online messaging, and web-based communication, we lose the humanistic communication component. For many, this lack of human connection can change the culture of the office.
Effective communicators know the difficulties in these practices, as there will always be conversations that need to happen that are uncomfortable, concerning, and confrontational in nature. Real leaders must be willing to toss their ego aside to have these conversations because they know the temporary struggle is worth the long term outcomes of success and improved outcomes.
Leaders who cannot have difficult conversations or share their real opinions on matters will be accomplices to the corporation’s slow bleed and gradual degradation. The corporate culture of the 21st century won’t have time to tolerate those who beat around the bush and use ineffective means of communication. These individuals will be left behind and have no chance to find their way back.
3. Show Empathy
Emotional intelligence is arguably one of the most important traits for leaders to possess in the 21st-century workplace. It’s a guiding factor for long-term success((International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: The Contribution of Emotional Intelligence to Career Success: Beyond Personality Traits)) and building relationships, among many other factors.
One of the greatest strengths of emotional intelligence is the ability to show empathy towards your colleagues, coworkers, and office personnel, so make it an integral part of your practice when you lead by example.
Placing yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand their perspective isn’t easy, but it’s one of the quickest ways to build trust and show that you care. It’s also a great way to build long-term relationships that can improve company culture((Industrial Psychiatry Journal: Emotional intelligence and organizational effectiveness)).
Leaders who show empathy set the tone for future interactions and conversations, especially with the hard conversations that are inevitable in the workplace((Very Well Mind: Cognitive vs. Emotional Empathy)). Over 90% of HR professionals, CEO’s, and employees believe empathy is an essential factor in the proper functioning of a workplace((Businessolver: The State of Workplace Empathy 2020 State of Workplace Empathy)). In fact, it’s so important that 8 in 10 employees stated that they are willing to leave a job or employer who isn’t empathetic((ASAP: The Value of Empathy in the Workplace)).
Empathy in the workplace can also significantly improve the company’s overall health and well-being((Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience: Why empathy has a beneficial impact on others in medicine: unifying theories)), with medical institutions and hospitals now teaching medical professionals how to use empathy in the clinic to enhance their patient outcomes. And since we can improve((Journal of Patient Experience: The Science of Empathy)) and grow our ability to use empathy, it’s a skill that should continuously be groomed and worked on overtime.
The Bottom Line
As a leader, your actions and words are always under the microscope. The team members who depend on you for guidance and execution seek this constant feedback. While actions will always speak louder than words, your words and communication style need to be in alignment with what you do as you lead by example.
While it may seem trivial, consistently coming up short with actions and words will lead to more significant problems down the road as colleagues lose trust in your abilities to fulfill your duties.
Trust and respect can’t be demanded; they must be earned, especially in the workplace. Titles and roles can only carry your responsibilities so far, which means that it is up to you to take these steps and implement them into your daily habits.
Consistency is the easiest way to build your reputation as a leader who can execute on tasks, develop your team, and grow your company’s platform.