Become a Better Leader

By Maria Carter, November 15, 2011

Companies today often operate with skeleton staffs where employees are asked to juggle multiple jobs with less pay—a recipe for burnout. Whether you manage a staff around you while planning meetings or you started your own events business decades ago, it’s your job to keep the people around you—and yourself—happy. If there is discontent on your team, maybe you need to become a better boss.

Be the Leader You Would Follow 

Begin by knowing and understanding yourself. “Know your strengths and weaknesses, your vulnerabilities and your blind spots,” says Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D., executive coach and author of “The Introverted Leader.” “Self-awareness helps you to be more effective because you’re able to supplement your team with the people that complement your strengths and weaknesses.”

John Brubaker, performance consultant, speaker and author of “Overtime Victory: Success Strategies from the Locker Room to the Board Room,” says higher-ups should ask themselves one question: What characteristics would I like to see in my people, and how would I like to see them change? Maybe the answer is a positive attitude, greater resilience or servant leadership. Perhaps it’s communication or relationship-building skills. Then cultivate those traits in yourself. “Great companies [have a] person at the top [who] is modeling what he wants from his sales managers, his VP and his customer service representatives,” says Brubaker. “No one is going to buy anything you’re selling unless you own it yourself first.”

Get Personal

Regularly connect with each team member on an individual level. “Get to know the people behind the jobs: what their personalities are like, what their interests are, what makes them tick,” says Kahnweiler. “Know what drives [them] and makes them want to stay and work harder. All effective leaders are great listeners. When they listen they not only build trust and credibility with their teams, but they also, usually, elicit terrific ideas.”

Brubaker points to a real-life example of servant leadership at CleanBrands, where CEO Gary Goldberg does something similar to a physician’s rounds in a hospital. Goldberg goes through the sales department asking, “What’s the one thing I can do right now to help you with what you’re working on?” Every day, he checks in on his employees. “You’re making an investment of your personal time and your willingness to put down what you’re doing, to make sure you help other people,” says Brubaker.

Maximize Your Human Resources 

Brubaker and Kahnweiler agree: Great bosses make their people look good. They tune in to their employees’ talents, play up those strengths and maximize each individual’s ability to succeed.

By getting to know, and listening to, your team, you’ll know what motivates them, says Kahnweiler. “For one person, it may be getting to go to a new training course that’s going to ramp up his skills, where [for another person] it might be getting to have some time off so she can be with her kids more. You can then recognize and reward people with what matters to them.”

Kahnweiler encourages deliberate job-design to play up individual strengths. A planner should know, for example, that more introverted team members shouldn’t be placed on a trade-show floor to interact with sponsors and attendees. Rather, that person may be better suited to go behind the scenes and help with logistical planning, office duties and housing issues. “People are motivated when they can use what they already do well.”

Brubaker calls this strategy “the power of one”: the ability to identify and maximize the one thing that a particular employee does better than anybody else. “If you can put each of your people in a role that maximizes [his or her] ability to succeed, you’ll have the right people in the right roles, with the right goals…the basis for a successful team or department,” says Brubaker. “A leader who can help their people discover their unique talents, and channel those into their work, can have unparalleled results.”

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