No leader is perfect. It takes continuous work and improvement to lead at high levels. Over the years, I have been fortunate to work with some great leaders, learn from them, and figure out a few things that work along the way. What I’ve learned has helped me in leading people and creating high performing organizations that are not only successful, but that have a great culture where people are excited to be a part of what we are doing every day.
Leading people is an art, but it does not have to be complicated. Many times we make things more complex and harder than they have to be. This can create problems.
There are the four simple secrets that are essential to great leadership and building a high performing team. I call them the Four Secrets of Leadership. If you follow these and adapt them for your own business and for those you lead, they will give you a great base for success.
Secret 1: People Support What They Help to Create
Sounds easy, right? Make sure those you are leading and making decisions for in your business have some input. It’s really not that easy, especially for entrepreneurs. How many times do we find ourselves telling people what to do and telling our teams or employees how ‘we are going to do things’ or ‘how it’s going to be?’ More importantly, if you have a team member that you are trying to spur to action or help overcome a situation, how likely are they to really take ownership and initiative if you just tell them what they should do?
The key is to make people part of the process. Get their input, or more importantly, allow their input. When someone comes to you with a problem, instead of telling them what to do, ask them how they think it should be solved and then empower them to do it. People support, with unbridled enthusiasm, what they help to create and feel ownership in. And that brings us to the next pillar.
Secret 2: People Want and Love to Be a Part of Something Bigger Than Themselves
It is our nature to want to be part of the winning team or part of where the momentum is going. Think about how you have felt if you were part of a winning team or maybe when your favorite sports team is doing really well. You are more excited, more driven, more passionate. It’s your job as a leader to create a culture where people feel they are part of a bigger mission, not just their own. And it’s your job to make sure you are crystal clear on how they can have an impact and make a difference in making that mission a reality.
There are two things that are essential to doing this well.
First, have a purpose for your business or team. Make sure everyone knows what the purpose is, and, as you create it, ask them to be a part of the process—see Secret #1. Everyone in your organization should be able to articulate the purpose. It should be short, meaningful, and inspiring.
For example, we recently went through an exercise where we redefined our purpose in one of our companies with our senior leadership team. The result was so simple: “Happy Employees, Happy Customers, Everyone Wins.” That is how we approach every day and now all of our teams have this in mind as they approach their day with each other, our clients, partners, etc. It is already making a difference.
Second, once you have a purpose for your organization, then you need a mission. Think of purpose as the “what” and mission as the “how.” We reworked our mission and simplified it to this, “To help customers succeed and thrive by transforming data into intelligence.”
Our teams now have something bigger to strive for in our purpose and our mission and it is already making a difference. Don’t skip this step. Make sure to create your purpose and your mission. Most importantly, allow those that are helping to execute them be a part of creating them.
Secret #3: Recognize People When Recognition Is Due
This is another one that seems easy, but doing it is the hard part. I am not talking about big annual recognition or service awards or things like that. Those are good and should be done. I mean the day-to-day in-the-trenches recognition.
Leaders often are moving so fast that as soon as we get something completed or get a win, we quickly move on to the next initiative. As a leader, we must have the emotional intelligence and mindfulness to make sure we recognize and share our gratitude with our employees and teams. This can be as simple as a conversation or handwritten note to say, “Thank you for the effort.”
You do not need to—or want to—go overboard with it and be thanking people for every little thing or recognizing them for doing what they are supposed to be doing in their normal work. But, when someone goes above and beyond or really steps up, make sure to let them know you appreciate and see this effort. This is not only the right thing to do, but you will be amazed at how they will continue to practice this behavior and others will begin to do so as they see their peers upping their game.
Secret #4: People Live up to the Expectations That Are Set for Them
Setting expectations is easy, but doing this correctly is not. It takes balance. Set an expectation for someone that is way too high to achieve and you will discourage them. But at the same time, you want to stretch them a little to grow. Set an expectation too low and you could end up creating a culture of low performance.
People will live up to the expectations set for them, high or low. It’s your job as a leader to make sure to find the balance and give clarity to your people. There is no secret formula for this as every person is different in their capabilities, attitudes, and goals for themselves. You will need to create expectations on an individual basis for those you directly impact.
The important thing is to tie in the other Pillars. Give them an opportunity to give feedback on what they think high performance looks like and what stretching themselves means to them—that way they will support what they help to create, Secret #1. Tie the expectation you set, and show them how it fits, into the bigger purpose and mission—making them a part of something bigger, Secret #2—and lastly, when they reach those expectations and go above and beyond, give them the recognition they deserve.
Leading effectively is an art and using the Four Secrets as your base gives you a great place to grow from. You can use them with any team or company, or even coaching your kid’s little league team. The Secrets are tried and true and tested throughout time. Put them to work for you!
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