Be an emphatic leader

My colleagues and I frequently hear senior executives express concern that they aren’t able to stay on top of the endless stream of new books and magazine articles focusing on topics pertaining to successful leadership. Most recently, one of my executive coaching clients said, “I know I would benefit from doing more reading, but even with the best of intentions, I never seem to find the time!”

This comment prompted me to attempt to capture the essence of successful leadership in a manner that even the busiest executive would likely have time to read. Here, then, is what I’ve come up with—the top ten leadership practices for the “people side” of the organization, particularly during CHANGE:

  1. PROVIDE VISION DURING CHANGE. To ensure openness and trust, avoid surprises. Offer specific information, reasons for anticipated change, and continuous updates. Help employees feel like change agents, rather than victims of change, by inviting them to help make decisions and solve problems.
  2. BE AN EMPATHETIC LEADER. Encourage employees to give voice to their concerns and fears. Listen generously. Affirm their feelings. Provide extra measures of support and optimism. Make a sincere effort to boost employee confidence and attitude by expressing appreciation and offering pats on the back on a daily basis.
  3. CUT A LITTLE SLACK. Though we always want to encourage excellence, we must also recognize that mistakes are inevitable when learning new skills and procedures. Unless employees are allowed to take reasonable risks and learn from their mistakes without fear of retribution, they are likely to hold back, rather than to give their all.
  4. BECOME A MASTER COMMUNICATOR. At its best, effective workplace communication starts at the top with leaders who create a culture that prioritizes open and continual communication in all directions. Navigate by curiosity and ask questions to encourage participation and critical thinking; then pay close attention to responses.
  5. COACH A WINNING TEAM. Creating cohesive teams out of employees with varying skill and experience levels rests on the shoulders of the organization’s leaders. Winning teams need excellent coaches to guide, develop, inspire and help motivate team members. It is important to lead, yet not dictate or dominate. Encourage interdependent relationships which stress cooperation, not competition, among team members.
  6. BE AN EMOTIONALLY INTELLIGENT ROLE MODEL. Set the high standards you expect others to follow. Lead the way with purpose and passion, demonstrating the values and behaviors expected throughout your organization.
  7. PRACTICE RESILIENCE. Be flexible and nimble enough to respond to the unexpected in today’s complex environment, and change direction when the situation calls for it. Know when to take control and when not to over-control an uncontrollable situation. Learn to bounce back from inevitable setbacks.
  8. LIVE A WELL-INTEGRATED LIFE. Pressures and demands, concerns and worries can quickly put you on overload and diminish your effectiveness. Successful leaders have learned how to keep the negative aspects of stress within manageable limits. Such basics as getting enough sleep, eating healthy, keeping fit, relaxing to recharge your batteries, and setting aside quality time with family and friends are critical components of good health, good humor and good leadership.
  9. BUILD A LEARNING ORGANIZATION. Optimize your effectiveness by staying on the cutting edge of your industry and by keeping up with best management practices. If book reading is not an option because of time constraints, take advantage of opportunities to learn via professional associations and industry literature. Encourage your employees to be lifelong learners by offering them ongoing education and development opportunities.
  10. INSPIRE TRUST AND LOYALTY. Retention of exceptional talent has become a major challenge in many organizations. Take steps to avoid this concern by recognizing that loyalty and trust go hand-in-hand. Do you provide the strength of leadership that inspires trust and promotes loyalty and retention?

We’d love to hear from leaders reading this post: If you were to pick the one or two most important leadership skills, which of these would you emphasize, and why?

June Kriviskey is a consultant at Vernal Management Consultants LLC in Milwaukee.

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