In my early twenties, I thought that managers, supervisors, and anyone that had authority over me was a leader. I looked up to them and observed their leadership style so I could learn one differentiator or two hoping it could help me grow and accelerate my interpersonal development. This hope changed when I experimented firsthand in my early twenties when my manager claimed that he had an open-door policy where everyone was welcome to talk to him.
I was young and did not have much experience. However, every time I passed by his office, I felt awkward to approach him since the door was always closed. One day, I decided to be brave and knock as I needed to speak with him. I went in with high hopes to solve a problem, but as soon as I started to speak, he asked me to wait as he needed to answer a call. During my ten minutes meeting, he was interrupted twice by calls that he deliberately chose to answer and not listen to my concerns. I felt insignificant and questioned whether my commitment and contributions really mattered to him and whether I had any value.
I moved on with other companies hoping to work under a true leader; whatever that meant to me at the time. Alas, a similar trend kept persisting. I had seen it all; from ineffective, uncompassionate “leaders”, who say one thing and do another, to those who slammed doors when communicating anger.
All these experiences would be upsetting and hurtful to anyone. Therefore, I made a commitment to developing my communication and leadership skills so I could be ready when asked to lead.
When you want to create an environment where people feel valued, begin by treating others the way you would like to be treated and not the way they want to be treated. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Lead mindfully and be a thought & heart-centered leader who demonstrates the way by example.
From my observation as a global communication and leadership coach, I found several steps every leader must master to largely inspire and connect with others regardless of the language and the environment.
Always lend an ear: while maintaining eye contact, body posture, and voice tone may vary from culture to culture, listening attentively is a sign of respect and interest throughout the world. If you are an engaged listener, you do not fiddle, tap your fingers, or check your messages on your cellphones. Whether at work or at home, poor listening skills can translate to poor performance, poor relationships, poor productivity, and overall an unhealthy environment. It takes more intensity and concentration to listen than to speak. A true leader should master this skill for those around them to feel valued.
Wear the listener’s shoes: This simply means that you must ask yourself important questions on what the listener should receive when you address them. How does your talk benefit, impact, or influence your listener so you tailor your message to address their needs and concerns. Let’s say ahead of a corporation is planning to lay off a large number of employees; instead of giving the reasons behind the decision, a leader should get straight to the points employees would be concerned about: will they receive severance? Will they receive any other benefit to help them transition? Are there any other options they can utilize to assist them in paying their bills for a period? etc. The leader must be clear, compassionate, and respectful.
Exemplify the best model: An exercise that can help you with this is to take a moment and imagine a “best possible you”, then write down the thoughts that come to mind. This exercise will help you visualize internally to transform your thoughts into action. As a leader, I chose to practice the act of kindness to positively impact the lives of others. The results are amazingly rewarding. I experienced this not long ago when one of my team members was experiencing financial challenges. Her father was hospitalized, and she had to take care of him while experiencing some health problems herself and did not have the means for treatments. She never complained or mentioned anything, but I felt something was different. I asked her to be open and feel free to share her problems. She did. I immediately took the necessary step to alleviate the pressure and solve the problem that placed a burden on her daily routine. Imagine what a simple act of kindness did for her and her family. To me, it was nothing. To her, it meant a lot.
Express empathy: So often, corporate messages are devoid of empathy, and leaders are afraid to go off-script even when they disagree. This is an unhealthy behavior for all the parties involved. Expressing sorrow does not mean you are weak or accepting blame. It simply means you have feelings and you are not scared to express them. Never hesitate to communicate empathy.
Body language matters: your body language can send a variety of silent signals that will either invite people into your space or alienate them even if that’s not your intention. Are your arms crossed? Or are your hands behind your back or shoved in your pocket? Do you check text emails when someone is talking to you? Are you standing up straight? Do you raise your eyebrows when someone speaks or answers a question? All these body gestures can either work for or against you. Body language can also be interpreted differently depending on the culture you are involved with. I once worked with a man who placed his hand in his pocket each time, he delivered a presentation signaling he was either unsatisfied with his looks, clothes, or his speech. Nothing could have been further from the truth. He was a very eloquent and confident speaker. He saw his habit on video and was terribly upset but relieved to be aware of it each time he spoke to an audience.
Tell stories: Do you remember what your parents’ storytime before bed felt like? It generated emotions and connections, right! A story helps listeners visualizes how your service, product, or message is relevant to their lives. Stories help us feel. When we feel, we care. Information without anecdotes is meaningless. A leader must master the art of storytelling.
Avoid confusion: People do not want to paddle through a bunch of data and talk to figure out what is important. As a leader, you should always point out important facts first. The same should apply to verbal communication in the workplace. Look for ways to engage quickly so you can give people a reason to listen. If you grab their attention quickly, they will say: Tell me more!
In conclusion, leadership is about behavior and not titles. Powerful leaders are great communicators and can easily connect with others. They encourage input and feedback. They are mindful of their actions and body language. They are great storytellers and know how to attract attention and draw emotions. They use their skills to empower others and instill confidence in those around them.
Titles may bring power and prestige, but they never cultivate loyalty, trust, and respect. Only behavior will.