Being a RARE leader: 4 lesser known leadership skills to cultivate to help your people to grow
Why we need good leaders
We need good leaders. We need you. Our world is capable of being a wonderful, vibrant place, and it needs people who are willing and capable to lead and inspire others to be their best, to make it so.
Having psychological safety in your business, will help people to feel safe and valued and capable to voice their options and be their true selves. This will then enable them to be at their best and produce their best work.
So how can you do that?
Many people focus on communicating the WHY of their business: the company missions, ethos and values. And this is absolutely right. But what can you do if you have already done this, your people are working well, and you, as their leader, want to raise your game to help them better?
You focus on the HOW.
I don’t mean telling people what to do. Or micro managing them. I mean that if you say you care about your people, you want them to feel psychologically safe and you want to be a great leader for them, focus on HOW you show this. Focus on loving leadership actions.
So often we say things like “You mean so much to us, and to the team”. So HOW do your people know this to be true? How do you show them?
By focusing more on showing rather than telling, you will make the results of your leadership more tactile and practical, rather than theoretical and verbal.
Let’s look at 4 leaderships skills that you can practice and cultivate to go to that next level and become a RARE leader. If you regularly put these 4 skills into practice and commit to demonstrating them daily, there is not limit to how good your relationships with your people can be.
Leadership Skill 1 – Recognition
Recognition is a wonderful way to build someone up, to affirm them, to show them that they are special. We all want to be made to feel important and to know that we belong.
Everyone deserves this, so let’s move beyond employee of the week or employee of the month awards.
Here are 3 ways how you can regularly show recognition towards your people:
- Remember the little details about them – their hobbies, likes, family names, do they have pets? This shows that you recognise them as people first, they do not have to do anything or achieve anything, for you to recognise and acknowledge their value as a human being.
- Ask them this question – “What do you care about?” And see what they say. Keep a note of what they have said, and relate back your words and actions to their answers. For example, if they love sports, when you talk to them, you can use sports references and metaphors, as you know that they will be interested and engaged in this.
- When you use praise when communicating with people verbally, written or online, make yourself as praise specific as possible, praising their effort in particular. Generic praise is useless. “Good work Sarah,” does not recognise Sarah at all. “I love how much thought and effort you put into that social media post yesterday, what was the engagement like that you got with it?” Is much better. Here you have clearly praised the effort, related it to a specific task, and you have further reached out to her with an open ended question about the task.
Leadership Skill 2 – Affirmation
We all need to be affirmed that we matter, that we are special people. Recognition is about helping your people to feel seen and appreciated for their efforts. And affirmation is a subtler skill, it is the ability to say with your words and actions, “You matter to me” as a person first, regardless of a person’s business output or productivity.
Here are 2 ways that you can affirm your people
- Make sure that they get regular encouragement. Who is their cheerleader in the business? Who is helping them to feel special? Is it you? Their line manager? Do you have encouraging processes in place – such as material or resources that they can access? Imagine that you had someone who encouraged you, told you to keep going, told you how special you are, every day. How amazing would that be? Never assume that your people have that person – we all need regular encouragement.
- Listen properly to their ideas. If people come to you with ideas that you disagree with, or may not want to use, listen to them anyway. Make it very clear that you will listen to them. And then properly do so. Keep an open mind. Be willing to change your mind, based on something they say. They will pick up on your vibe if you do this. Give them a safe time and space to try things out with you, or your team – this can be hugely affirming for people and can massively help to improve their confidence.
Leadership Skill 3 – Responsiveness
Respond to people’s needs – not just their emails. People want leaders who listen, who are available at the important moments and can respond quickly. Here are 3 ways that you can demonstrate responsiveness, that go beyond just replying quickly to emails.
- Focus on TODAY. Get into the habit of saying to your team and your people, “What do we have to do TODAY?” And respond to that. If a staff member is sick, can you organise cover? If a resource is missing, can you offer an alternative? Keep an eye on the big picture, but never lose sight of what your people need TODAY.
- Respond to family and emergency health issues swiftly. Does someone need time off because a member of their family has been rushed to hospital? Give it to them. They will appreciate it so much and it is the right thing to do by them, they will not forget it.
- If a problem arises that is out of the ordinary, stay calm. Your people will be looking to you. If you panic, so will they. However, if you stay calm, and composed and say, “Right, this is what we are going to do….” That calmness and clarity of action will be followed by your people. This is not easy to do, so practice doing this when you are in situations where you need to stay calm – such as with children, when you are tired, or when something unexpected happens. This skill of not reacting and staying calm is one of the best approaches when being responsive in your leadership – you will make better decisions and create better positive ways forward.
Leadership Skill 4 – Empathy
Here are 3 ways to develop, improve and demonstrate empathy towards your people.
- Do not use projection. This means when someone tells you something and you immediately try to relate it to you, your life and an example that you may have experienced or what you think. “I know how you feel” is one of the worst well-meaning phrases that we can use. Much better is to say, “I am here for you, what do you need?” “That must be so difficult for you,” What is it like for you at the moment?” These phrases show the person that you are focused on them – projection makes it all about you.
- Use open ended questions to seek to understand. When people are struggling, they often don’t need a judgment from you. They want empathy, and for you to try to understand where they are coming from. Closed questions with yes or no answers don’t help to build this rapport. Instead, try open ended questions such as, “How are you at the moment?” “What do you need?” “Which area can I help you with the most?” “If you can get one thing right now, what would it be?” “How can we best support you?” “When is it best to talk to you about this?” These questions open the door to help the person to feel comfortable to open up to you. And if not, to know that you are standing in an open doorway, for when they are ready.
- Use the situation switch – use this if you are finding it very difficult to understand someone, because you have not been in their situation. Use your imagination and switch the situation so you can imagine feeling what it might be like for them. Here are some examples. You are a woman who can’t understand why some men can’t talk about their mental health. So imagine that it was women who couldn’t talk about their mental health, how could you help them? You are an able bodied person, who can’t understand what it is like to be a person in a wheelchair. So imagine most people are in a wheelchair, and you as able bodied are in the minority. How would you feel then? You struggle to understand a person’s accent. So could you imagine how well you would do trying to speak in their native language fluently? Then you may see how well they are actually doing. These are some simple imaginative exercises that you can try out, to build your capacity to understand people better, and try to shift your perspective towards greater empathy. The next time you struggle to understand someone, trying flicking the situational switch!
Final thoughts – be brave, be RARE
I hope you have found these 4 leadership skills to be helpful. When you apply them, and get success with them, don’t keep them to yourself: pass them on, share your successes and failures with your people, train up others in them once you have found ways to make them work for you, and you have had success with them. By doing so, you are going beyond yourself into being other-orientated, towards building a culture and a way of doing things that outlasts you. Remember, our world needs leaders like you to be at their very best.
Use these 4 skills daily, take yourself to the next level, become a RARE leader! The world needs you to do so, and you can do it, I believe in you.
Love and best wishes,