I first became a manager when I was 19 years old. I fully expected it to be the same sales job as before; just add monitoring employees. I was fully underprepared for the difference. There is so much more to leadership than that.
Whether you are a manager or not, leadership skills are indispensable.
Successful leadership means being someone who can create passionate, engaged, and happy followers to perform at their best.
The basic building blocks of an effective and engaging leader are:
- Honesty, Kindness, and Gratitude
- Recognizing Value
- Be a Sponge
Honesty, Kindness, and Gratitude
The first thing your employees will notice about you and often the biggest takeaway if they leave the company: how they were treated.
When I first got a major management position I was nervous. It was a new (and much busier) store, with new people, and different expectations. During this difficult transition, my leader, Joey, did something very simple that has shaped my own management methods to this day.
He treated me like a human rather than just someone who works there.
We would talk and joke, and I always felt like he had my back when things got hard. I wasn’t a special case either, he showed honesty and kindness to everyone in the store. He lived by the elementary saying “treat others the way you want to be treated.”
To Be Honest…
There is a sad misjudgment in the business world that when you act kindly to employees, then you’re a pushover or weak. When in fact, this attention made him more respectable and approachable.
If you treat your employees kindly and honestly then they will reciprocate that to you and customers. A successful company starts with the leader creating the environment they want to work in. A positive environment means higher employee retention, better work quality, better experience, and an overall more prosperous team.
So your first step? Start by saying “please” and “thank you”. A “hello” to your employees every day with a smile goes a long way as well! Then you can open up conversation; learn about who you are working with other than what they do from 9-5.
Just be personable, honest, and open.
Many think that being a good leader is about leading from the front and doing things yourself. Leading by example is a great method, but it is better to be done by attitude and work ethic rather than physically doing the work.
Your employees should feel like they are an asset, that they are valuable to the company. If you are doing their work, why have them there? It may feel like their work isn’t good enough or that you do not trust them. Why would anybody give 100% when they do not feel appreciated or like their work is worthless?
The Good, The Bad, and The Underappreciated
Since we have already looked at a good manager, now let’s look at a poor manager in the same exact role. After leaving Joey’s store, I transferred to an even busier store ran by “Jerry”.
Jerry did not have the same attitude or integrity as Joey. The store morale was the lowest I’ve ever seen, and the turnover the highest. There were many factors to contribute to this poor work environment, but an easy one to fix would’ve been to recognize the value within the team.
When a team member would do something in a way Jerry did not approve of, he made sure they knew about it, but never on his own.
Jerry relied on me to deliver the secondhand account of whatever was wrong to the disheartened team member.
To avoid punishment, team members kept their heads down and did the bare minimum.
A dog will not do tricks if they expect only punishment. A dog will do tricks when they know a treat is involved. As harsh as that analogy may sound, it’s true. The treat could be something as simple as a “good job, I appreciate what you do.”
If you do not recognize the value of each of your team members, what is it that is keeping them there? They will take their skills to someone who does appreciate them.
Make it an objective to say “thank you” when someone does well. Make personal recognition a priority. As a leader who cares about the success of your company, it is easy to look for all the negatives to be corrected. Don’t forget all the good things your team does every day.
Your team should be tired of hearing “thank you”; you should be saying it every time they do something well.
Being communicative is essential for all positions that work with other people. If you do not communicate properly and thoroughly, you are much more likely to make mistakes or create misunderstandings.
Communicate your expectations. Every person on your team should know what they need to be doing and how they need to do it. If your expectations are not given, they will not be able to do the quality work you are looking for. They will question their role and never feel comfortable with it.
I loved Joey’s communication style. He was a bit of a micromanager because he was always checking up on people; he wanted to know how we were doing and what our plans were.
Even though Joey was strict with well-above-average expectations, they were very attainable because he communicated them with us throughout the day, every day. We always knew what to do, and felt comfortable enough to ask him if ever something new came up.
Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
The best communication is the kind that can go both ways. Joey would give his idea and plan for the week and expected us to present our own at the same time. That way we could compare our values and priorities, discuss, and adjust.
You have a team for a reason. If it is a good team that you value, you should be using their knowledge and experience as much as possible. Use their perspectives to grow your own.
Keep your team in the loop! Let them know your thought process and what your plans and expectations are as they develop. Never leave them in the dark. There is rarely any reason why you cannot communicate information to others. Even if you think it isn’t relevant to them, it may create conversation and new ideas you hadn’t thought of.
Be A Sponge
Constantly keep an open mind to new knowledge. Now that you know your team and have made connections with them, you know that they have valuable perspectives. Learn from them and ask questions about topics you don’t know as much about. Even though you’re “the boss”, you do not have to be perfect and you will never know everything.
In my own leadership experience, I was oftentimes the youngest person in the room with a big title to prove myself worthy of. Having a high title made me feel like I had to know everything, so admitting my ignorance was difficult. Additionally, I was a female with a male-dominated public clientele and work environment. It would be remiss to say I didn’t feel the pressure and doubt from people around me.
Learn To Learn
What I learned very quickly was to accept fault and lack of experience or knowledge. As soon as I did, I turned each moment into a learning experience. When I first started working with tools, I asked customers who obviously knew what they were doing about why they preferred one power tool over another, I asked Google and Youtube questions I couldn’t answer to help other customers so we would learn in-depth together.
I used all my resources to be as knowledgeable as possible. I relied on my team for certain subjects too. I never had a garden, so I used my garden center specialists to make the best decisions for merchandising seasonal plants and add ons and every time I went outside, I asked them questions about each plant.
If you cannot learn, then you will never be able to teach. Leaders teach and guide. Your team’s experience and knowledge are very important, but so is yours. Make sure you’re also bringing value to your team by sharing your knowledge and experience.
The last step is simply to ask questions. It does not matter how long you have been in your position or how long you have been in the industry. I guarantee there is something more you can learn. Do not take to the logical fallacy of appealing to authority and do not let your team do it either.
Ask questions to learn more, or ask questions to start a conversation with your team to create an opportunity to teach. Either way, it will be fulfilling and beneficial.
So to wrap it up, to be a great leader;
- You must be friendly and attentive to your team
- Praise them when they do well and show your appreciation for them individually
- Communicate expectations and ideas with them on a daily or weekly basis
- Use your resources to continuously learn and grow
- Be a figure you would want to work with
Think about how people in your own past have motivated you. Think of your teachers and coaches in school and write down specific events in which they have done something to help you grow or succeed. The methods they used to help you are your first steps into understanding how you can help others as a leader.