“Be the person you needed when you were younger.” is a statement I have seen plastered on various office walls through the years. As business leaders, it is easy to forget that we are not dealing with just a worker for our company, but rather a complete human being with challenges, responsibilities, limitations, and strengths. The best leaders don’t just make great followers, they inspire these followers to grow into future leaders. Sometimes, however, we find ourselves in a challenging situation. Sometimes you want advice, a friendly ear, or just a sounding board.
It is at these stressful times that it is crucial for your emotional and physical health to have a Mike (or Michelle) in your corner. All this means is to have someone that you absolutely trust to communicate with frequently and to help lead you through these tough times.
Over the last three decades, that person for me has always been Mike. Mike was a colleague of mine who shared my passion for fitness. We ran, swam, and biked together, raced together, laughed together, and cried together after horrible races, bike crashes, running injuries, and equally horrible life experiences. Mike was (and is) a great listener, but wouldn’t hesitate to tell me if an idea I had needed to be revisited or if he disagreed with something. My challenges varied over the years, from ideas of what anniversary present to buy for my wife, to his advice on a good tax attorney or just some general business advice. But what never changed was he was always there, actively listening to me, and inspiring me to bigger and better things. He believes in me and pushes me to be the best Darrin Rohr I can possibly be. To this day, regardless of the distance that separates us or the amount of time that has passed since we last spoke, he is my closest friend and he is a great leader who makes me a better person and a much more capable leader as well.
Some people are just born to lead, and others must work a little harder. But all great leaders inspire confidence by applying the skills Mike has. Sometimes, as business leaders, we need someone to talk to, and often (I would say always) as business leaders, we need to be there for our staff. Obviously, stay with what is professionally appropriate, but in this incredibly stressful and uncertain time, you need to be a reliable anchor for those people in your company under your charge. Over the years, I have tried to also surround myself at work with people that I could also trust at a very high level- people I don’t need to micromanage, question or doubt. You find these people by being that kind of person yourself.
Here are the elements that I think make a “Mike” or Michelle”, elements that make a great leader. It is someone who is available. If I call Mike, he will pretty much drop everything that he is doing to talk to me (and vice versa). They must be a good listener and ask the right questions. They must have the courage to tell you the truth, no matter how hard to hear that might be. You want, better yet, you need, people to challenge your ideas so that the end result is the best it can be, not just a checkmark on the strategy because it was yours. Lastly, they need to reciprocate. Someone who also trusts you and calls you in times of challenge- or just to celebrate a win with you. Reciprocity deepens relationships, think about that statement for a moment, doesn’t it? Great relationships are give/take, not take take take or give give give.
Here are the five things that great Mike’s and Michelle’s (leaders) do extremely well:
- Provide Support
Support is defined in many ways, but we all know what it is when we experience it.
Mike provided the support I needed when I needed it. His assistance helped enable me to act, knowing he was there for me no matter the outcome. I remember one occasion in which he absolutely disagreed with a business decision I chose. I took his advice to heart, but still went forward with my decision. Even though he disagreed, once the decision was made, he supported me 100 percent. I always smile when he says “I will always back your play”.
A recent INC.com article covers some of the traits great leaders have to motivate their team, stating “Leaders are, by definition, leaders. They give direction and provide support and then get out of your way and let you do the job they hired you to do.” *
Providing support to your team also helps establish trust and confidence in your leadership. Your team should be able to look to you and know that you will be there for them, in any circumstance.
- Be Responsive
An agile business is key in this economy, or really any economy. As a leader, your ability to respond to market conditions quickly will not only determine how your business can grow but also determine how your employees view your leadership. The ability to respond quickly, and positively shows you understand your people and inspires confidence in your leadership direction.
Additionally, the other responsiveness you should exemplify as a leader is the simple courtesy of touchbacks. Whether by email or phone or in person, when someone on your team reaches out to you, give the courtesy of a response within an appropriate amount of time. This valuable communication skill shows you are in touch and responsive to your employee’s needs.
- Show Respect
It is easy to lose respect, and harder to gain it. However, once you earn an employee’s respect, you are setting up an environment for high standards and an infrastructure of support for one another. As a leader, you have to be an example worthy of respect and trust. To start, learn that giving someone your respect validates them. By giving your time and your focus, you are really saying you value them and the information they have to offer you. In turn, they will evaluate you as being worthy of the time they spent with you, and by extension just about always will earn their respect back.
Every time Mike spent time with me, I felt more valued, respected, and worthy. There was no ego involved, it was just solid trust and communication. I never felt as though I was not worth his time, or that he just wanted to move past how I felt. Rather, I felt valued. And just like a good friendship, a great leader helps his or her team feel that same high level of value.
- Actively Listen
It has been said we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen more!! However, a great leader isn’t just silent while the employee rambles on about their day. It is a chance to actively engage in their life and their story. Paraphrase or summarize what the employee is saying, to ensure you understand them. Pick up one or two action items from the conversation, and follow up on them.
This may be the key to engaging with your clients more through the employee, solving a production issue, or just mediating a dispute with a fellow employee. Either way, be prepared to engage during conversations, in a positive matter. By practicing reflecting and sharing techniques, you exhibit integrity and positive feedback. Those are traits you want your employees to also exhibit and learn.
- Inspire, inspire and inspire some more
Using the four tools above will move your team towards feeling valued and inspired! One of the greatest businessmen of our time, Sam Walton, believed strongly in inspiring and encouraging his employees. He said “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”
Invest your time in your employees. I know that’s a hard ask for many of us, as we are pulled in so many different directions. However, just think of where your business can go if you invest some of your time into becoming a true inspiration for your employees. You cannot drive your business alone, however, if your employees feel your passion and purpose, plus hold respect and loyalty for you, they will become a driving force behind your success.
Be the blessing that moves your employees to bigger and better goals. It not only will lift your business up and move it forward, but it keeps it on a path of successful growth year after year!
Bringing It All together
Just like a good friendship, good leadership has many of the same qualities. Your loyalty, integrity, and concern for others can be inspirational. I hope you have (or can find) your Mike or Michelle to help lead you through these stressful times. Someone you can call on who is responsive to your needs, a listener, have the courage to tell you the truth and inspire you on to do great things. Examples of the quality great leaders have like Mike are responsible for providing the support you need, and also the support your employees need. Remember to always be the “Mike” for someone else.
Until Next Time,
Your Staffing Partner, Darrin Rohr- President, CEO and Chief Servant