As a leader, you have an effect on people. When you leave the room, people either feel taller or smaller. This is an almost super-hero power, but, unfortunately, leaders are often unconscious of it.
A few years ago, I met with an author I had always admired. It wasn’t our first meeting; I had met with him a few times previously. I had always enjoyed being with him and left our encounters with a renewed commitment to serve him well.
But this time was different. He marched into the meeting with an entourage of assistants and a heavy dose of entitlement. Something had changed.
My people had worked hard to deliver stellar results, particularly in a tough economy. They had spent the weekend preparing, eager to share what they had accomplished. They had slides, handouts, and (they thought) good news to report.
However, he managed to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” He scowled during the presentation. He was cold and aloof. When we were finished, he asked why we hadn’t accomplished more. He offered a litany of complaints.
His staff—several of them new and eager to look smart—followed his lead. They focused on the hole rather than the donut. In our two hours together, not one of them expressed an ounce of gratitude. It was demoralizing and we left feeling diminished.
On the way to the airport, I did my best to encourage my team. They were clearly deflated. One of my senior people sighed, “He made me feel like an idiot.” Another added, “Honestly, that meeting made me want to quit.” In my own heart, I felt precisely the same way.
My guess is that this author had no idea what he had just done. He may even have thought he was somehow motivating us. Not so much. In fact, he had just shot himself in the foot—maybe even in the head.
He had evidently forgotten that, at the end of the day, everyone is a volunteer. People will only go so far in the performance of a duty. If you want their very best, you have to have their hearts. You can’t demand this or even buy it with a paycheck. You have to earn it.
In my experience, there are six ways to do this:
- Assume others are smart and working hard. People want to succeed. When you fundamentally trust that they’re working diligently to meet or exceed your expectations, you empower them. In contrast, coming to the table with unfounded doubt in your team’s capability or work ethic can quickly sabotage everyone’s efforts.
Listen intently and ask thoughtful questions. It seems almost silly to encourage something as simple as listening, but so many of us do it very poorly. Listening and asking thoughtful questions not only generates more useful ideas and conversations, but it bolsters your team’s faith in your engagement level—and it drives their momentum.
Acknowledge the sacrifices others have made on your behalf. When you recognize how people have worked to put your interests before their own, you demonstrate humility and gratitude that is absolutely key for maintaining healthy collaboration. You can deeply inspire and motivate your team when you acknowledge the sacrifices they’ve made.
Express gratitude for their effort and their results. This should be a no-brainer, but sometimes we forget to thank our team members for what they’ve accomplished! You earn loyalty and boost confidence when you take the time to truly express gratitude for the work that others do.
Remind them why their work is so important. It’s so easy to lose sight of the big picture. Knowing that their work is making a difference in the grand scheme will go a long way in motivating your team to do great work.
Put slack in the system. When everything is tight all the time, it drains us. When we punctuate periods of drive with rest, it rejuvenates us. For example, the content team and I just took a week off the blog after an intense season. We know that purposeful time to unwind allows us to come back sharp, energized, and creative.
Yes, you can talk about issues that need to be addressed, but it has to be done in a way that leaves people motivated about what is possible.
As a leader, you have more power than you think. You will get more of what you focus on. Next time you walk into a meeting, consider, How do I want people to feel when the meeting is over? Begin with the end in mind.
Question: Think back to a great meeting where you left feeling empowered. What happened to make you feel that way? What happened to your performance?