Workplaces "are a-changin" to borrow a phrase from Bob Dylan's title song "The Times They Are a -Changin". When we think about it, hasn't change always been with us? Every generation sees a shift in how we build and relate to each other. I think of my father, a mechanic, who worked on the Model T and Model A Ford and advanced to vehicles with sleek designs, automated transmissions, travelled farther, faster and with greater efficiency which could only be a dream back in the 1920s. Change in the automotive industry was constant. He also witnessed massive changes in the social order, having lived through two world wars, the impact of coming of television and the spread of the entertainment industry, the exploration of space, the advancement in education and the dawning of the computer and the information age.
Massive changes these were. All affected the way we work, play and relate to one another. Yes the times were "a-changin." And they still are. However some things don't change. These are the legacy of great leaders of the past who can continue to inspire today's workplace leaders.
What I find as we move from one generation to another is how successful companies were and are open to change, both on the technical and socio-cultural sides of the business. They understand the "yin and yang" of business. This means attracting leadership that continuously advance products and services but also can inspire loyalty, commitment, and fervor in the workplace. In today's workplace what are the qualities leaders need to do this? I suggest they are the same ones that have marked the leaders of the past. However, I think we need these qualities more than ever today. Leaders keep employees when they:
Have Integrity. Leaders with integrity practice what they say or "walk the talk" as the saying goes. They walk with consistency, honesty, trustworthiness, and moral up rightness. They hold themselves to high ethical standards and deal with others with respect and dignity. One of the greatest compliments one can give a leader is to say, “Her/his actions show he/she has integrity.”
Show Gratitude. Great leaders count their blessings and understand they are leaders only because they have followers. Without followers who do they lead? Their gratefulness is exhibited through a strong sense of appreciation for those who work for them and with them. They are humble when they receive praise and point to those around them who help them achieve the company's vision and goals.
Champion Values. Great leaders clothe themselves in the values and principles that guide the organization. Too many businesses spend time mapping out their values and then the leaders fail to champion them. One of the most demoralizing behaviours within organizations occurs when people see their leaders contradict the values everyone is expected to up-hold. Leaders can only champion values if their behaviour is consistent with those values. Championing living values goes hand in hand with integrity.
Encourage Participation. Great leaders understand that the way to achieve commitment to goals and strategies is to engage participants in determining what action to take to make them come alive. This requires strong influencing and communication skills. They encourage employee participation in the planning process and those expectations that affect them. Great leaders don't say "Do this and that!" Rather they say "How do you think we should do this or that?" They are consultative rather than directive; however, they can be directive when the need arises such as in an emergency or crises situation. Even in a crisis though they often call upon their key advisers to discuss options. Sometimes business leaders can be mini-dictators, and when they are they primarily operate by creating fear. Great leaders don't lead with fear but inspire with hope, encouragement and engagement.
Take Time to Listen. The art and skill of listening is a lifelong challenge for some, but for great leaders they are a necessary attribute. Great leaders don't close their ears to receiving new ideas, ways to improve, the story of a troubled employee, or, a plea for help to solve a problem. They are empathetic listeners who try to understand the context of a problem, issue, or employee difficulty and engage those affected in determining a solution. An empathetic listener may not have to say anything, but evidences that h/she is listening. The point here is that great leaders take time to listen before they act or encourage others to act.
Promote Continuous Learning. Great leaders are open to continuous learning. They are eager to challenge their own thinking and not afraid to change a course of action or learn from both mistakes and successes. In today's business world great leaders know that the only way to keep ahead of the curve is to continuously improve people, processes, products and services. They identify as a priority training dollars for both technical and transferable skills during economic up-swings and down-swings. It takes courage for leaders to protect training dollars during economic down turns particularly in a culture where employee training is viewed as an expense rather than as an investment in the growth and regeneration of companies.
Lead Without Micromanaging. Great leaders know how to delegate and then get out of the way. Leaders who micromanage become the thorn in the side of those whose responsibility it is to carry out that which has been delegated. Leaders who micromanage have difficulty in letting go, they want to be 'doers' rather than leaders. Leaders set the boundaries for the delegated responsibility: they clearly state what they are delegating, put the matter into context for the delegatee, identify when the matter is due, hand over the responsibility to get the job done, and then get out of the way. When the matter is completed they review process and outcomes with the delegatee; and, if there are problems along the way, they engage the delegatee in finding solutions rather than providing solutions. If the person doesn't carry out the responsibility, then the leader needs to understand why. If it is because the person doesn't have the skills then a teaching moment presents itself; if it is because the person doesn't want to do it, is a procrastinator, or other factors are in the way, then a performance coaching session presents itself. Whatever the situation, great leaders divest themselves of micromanaging and arm themselves with managing the behavioural issues surrounding the delegated task.
Do the Usual Things Well. When the normal functions of an organization work well, great leaders stand back. To get to that level they ensure the usual requirements of the organization are done well. They put in place appropriate policies and review those that are outdated and make changes where necessary, follow sound hiring practices and lead the marketplace with better salaries and benefits. In short, they hire the best and pay them well. They continually promote process and operational improvement strategies; ensure technological tools are current; keep products and service relevant; scan the marketplace environment and adjust their market and sales strategies accordingly; and keep sound stewardship over all their resources. Yes, they do the usual things well.
Show Compassion. Great leaders are compassionate people. They are contributors to their communities in several ways. They encourage employees to become involved in extending themselves to those less fortunate. Examples abound in our community alone where leaders donate portions of their profits to contribute to such causes as the Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, Head Start schools, University expansion, United Way, hospital expansion, libraries, health research, and scholarship funds, to name a few. They also encourage employees to contribute in a direct way with food drives, fund raising, and volunteering. Great leaders have learned that in "giving" they "receive."
Celebrate and Socialize. Great leaders understand that it is not always work that counts. They encourage employees to celebrate achievements both from a business and a personal perspective. They promote opportunities for company socialization to bolster camaraderie and team spirit. Sometimes they combine these with learning events or office retreats; often they are promoted as a recognized dimension of the corporate culture.
Lessons Learned: Change has always been part of growth and development. Without it we stand still. And when we stand still we start to go downhill and growth atrophies. Great leaders understand this. They also understand that employees want to work in a place that is alive with enthusiasm and joy. They know how to engender loyalty, even in a time when research indicates that employee loyalty is waning. They know that exhibiting personal integrity, living strong personal and company values, showing gratitude, listening deeply and being compassionate are the intangibles that make a difference in the workplace. They are also confident that the way to foster loyalty is to encourage engagement and participation, make sure all the usual things are done well, delegate without micromanaging, view learning as a necessary adjunct to personal and corporate growth, and celebrate and foster socialization within the workplace. If you want to become a great leader check how well you are acting on these attributes and develop a strategy where you think you can improve.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie, MSW, FCMC Up-dated from Fontanie Leaning Solutions.
Note: Image from Freedigitalphotos.net