I’ve been known to say “The best minute of the day is the one you invest in your people.” Why do I believe that? Because leaders who invest time in their direct reports build meaningful connections. Those connections create inspired people and leaders who work together to form great relationships and achieve great results. It’s a winning combination for workers, leaders and organizations.
So what makes up the mindset of leaders who partner so well with their people? A few qualities come to mind.
Inspired leaders take time to understand their people. Leadership is not about you. It’s about the people you serve. The more you understand your direct reports, the better you’ll be able to help them achieve their goals. One of the best methods to get to know your people is through regular one-on-one meetings. You schedule the meeting and your direct report determines the agenda. There’s no better way to show you care about each individual than by setting aside time to chat about anything — their job, family, favorite books, hobbies, etc. It’s a great opportunity for direct reports to speak openly or ask questions and for leaders to listen and share without interference or judgment. This fosters trust, respect and accountability on both sides.
Inspired leaders meet people where they are. Your direct reports will take a big step toward goal accomplishment when you give them the right leadership style for their current level of competence and commitment on any task or goal they may be facing. When you work side by side with each person to diagnose their development level on a task, it shows you’re interested in meeting them where they are.
Inspired leaders lead with care and compassion. Your people are your No. 1 customer. If you serve and lead your people with care, kindness and compassion, they’ll bring that same service mindset and skill set to their work by going out of their way to care for your No. 2 customer: the people who use your products and services. When that happens, those folks will become raving fans who tell their friends about you and become part of your sales force. That will take care of your company owners or shareholders and the financial side. Leading with care and compassion causes a domino effect that brings about loyalty and commitment.
Inspired leaders are authentic and open. My good friend and co-author Colleen Barrett, former president of Southwest Airlines, is a perfect example of an authentic leader. In our book “Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Real Success,” she says: “People admire your strengths, but they respect your honesty regarding your vulnerability. I think when you’re vulnerable, people realize that you, too, are human. And, perhaps even more importantly, they love your ownership of your personal positive and negative characteristics.”
Contrary to what most top-down leaders believe, when you are open about both what you do and don’t know, it does not make people question your leadership skills. Believe me — people already know their leaders aren’t perfect. Bring your team together for a brainstorming session once in a while and use some of their suggestions. They want to help — and they’ll appreciate a give-and-take relationship where they can contribute.
Inspired leaders always see potential. If you’re like me, you hire two kinds of people: winners or potential winners. In my experience, almost everyone is a potential winner — but some people need reassurance to perform at their full potential. So when the topic of career development comes up, be a cheerleader. Ask your people about their picture of the future. Encourage them to challenge themselves as they look toward their goals. Tell them you believe in them. You never know what a kind word might do.
Inspired leaders celebrate with people. Don’t forget to take time to celebrate people’s talents, skills and successes. Celebration doesn’t have to mean a big, expensive party. It can be as small as taking a person aside and praising them for their input at a meeting. Or it can be as grand as allowing the department to stop working two hours early on a Friday because of an ultra-productive workweek. Celebration lets people know they are doing things right. It builds morale and camaraderie.
Inspire your people and allow them to inspire you. Listen to their concerns and help them achieve their goals. Consider their suggestions and encourage them to strive for their highest potential. Praise their efforts and recognize a job well done. Take time to build meaningful connections. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.