A successful leader displays a set of extraordinary leadership characteristics. While some of these characters are congenital, it is critical for managers to aim at learning and further polishing leadership characters. However, it is commonplace to find business practitioners unwittingly working toward the wrong direction of what these characters ask for.
About a year ago, one of my clients, a CEO of a high-tech company, had trouble dealing with his employees. So I went to his office to see what was going on there. After listening to 2 hours of his nagging about how unproductive and inefficient his employees performed, I leaned toward the conclusion that most of his employees were not self motivated to improve and therefore tried to skip internal trainings as many times as possible; in addition, some of these employees seemed arrogant and self-centered and tended to argue and fight instead of communicating properly.
So I asked him about what he thought might be the main reason for these antagonistic behaviors. He thought for a few minutes and told me: “these people were not decently educated”. He simply turned the blame onto the society and onto things irrelevant to the work environment.
Before leaving his office, I asked my client to talk to his employees and listen to what they say and to share with me the outcome in our next meeting.
Why did I suggest that? As I mentioned at the very beginning, there are some characteristics we found in good leaders, and listening is one of such important elements. Listening would surely help him understand better his employees and therefore search for the likely causes of these problems.
Let us stop here for a minute and try to identify the essence of listening.
When I say listening, I do not mean to only pay attention and focus on the words heard. But rather, it is to understand what people feel, and know their emotion in an intelligent manner. Unfortunately, most people do not listen with the intent to understand, but with the intent to give responses. Managers care to let their message be well received by their subordinates. As a result, when they get upset about the behaviors of their staff, they do not try to apprehend the real reason of these behaviors. They try to act as mentors and give employees tips or guidance based on their own experience without even knowing the causes of this situation.
In the Stanford MBA program, the most popular class is a class called Touchy-Feely, which points out that if you want to build a successful company, you need to spend a lot of time dealing with the emotional aspect and with people’s feelings.
Indeed, the result of being a good listener can be very surprising sometimes. In the follow-up meeting with the CEO aforementioned, as he started to encourage more outright feedbacks from his staff, eventually one of his middle manager opened up a bit and told him: “You don’t do your best, why should I do my best?” Though a bit surprised, the CEO courageously asked his managers to shadow him for a week. At the end of the week, I sat down with him and reviewed the shadowing feedback. The outcome was astonishing. Every single thing that the employees were doing wrong was something he was doing also: they were just imitating him!
In order to push him to continuously improve, I advised my client to focus on and implement with several criteria that shape a sought-after leader, which are given as follows.
First of all, discipline. Managers tend to don’t strictly follow the rules that they set on their staff. For example, some managers do not put things in order and prioritize their plans or execution appropriately. They focus too much on the important and urgent things that overwhelm their daily agenda, yet forget to spare time on things important to the long run. Eventually, they fail to develop rapport with their people and create a bond with them both in and off company.
Second of all, patience. When building a company, a person does not build it for tomorrow, but for the years and the generation to come. And the only way to reach this target is to be patient, both in developing employees and cultivating future leaders. But the fact is, some managers are always afraid of delegation, because they don’t want to take the risk of losing money and reputation as a result of people making mistakes. Even if they do delegate, they tend not to be patient enough for the yield, but prefer to take over in the end and handle things on their own. As such, employees end up losing confidence and simply stop trying to deliver their best. This will ultimately waste time and sap organization morale. In contrast, the time it takes to train people upfront and the patience thrown in nurturing them will pay huge dividends in the long run. Consequently, this will contribute to the future success of business.
As an example, the Google management team encourages inventors and engineers to collaborate on audacious ideas and rewards them for trial and errors. It is because of this that Google’s staffs are bold to take risks and make breakthroughs.
Finally, trust building: Many managers control their people, either with authority or in an unintentional way. Doing this holds them back from fully empowering their subordinates. Thus, the employees will find their tasks easy to complete, as all they have to do is do what they are told to do. Therefore, they are not motivated to accomplish things other than the duty commanded from the upper level, which will never push them to obtain satisfaction from the job. By being in control managers hold off creativity and learning opportunities to their employees.
Luckily, in my first days of work post-graduation, I was headed by a supervisor who was an inspiration to me. He always considered his role as a source of help to me, and never told me what to do but only guided me the way to find the answers on my own. By doing so he made me responsible for all my actions. His coaching pushed me to become very open to him, to share with him my weaknesses and eventually to learn more and become more interested in the job that I was doing. At the end of the day leaders want their team to give their very best and do the job well.