Part 3 of a three-part series (Read the other parts here).

I have been honored with the opportunity to lead many people directly, as well as coach others who lead entire teams, ranging from first time managers all the way to CEOs. Over the years, I’ve learned many invaluable lessons, and one that continues to hold true – whether you are leading one direct report or a division of 20,000 – is that a strong and prepared leader will result in a strong and prepared team. Given the weight and importance of management, I’ve noticed a disparity in leadership training with organizations often treating it as something you simply learn by osmosis. Whether you’re new to leadership altogether or joining a new corporate team as a manager, training and preparation is key, which is why I’ve compiled tips to help leaders feel confident in propelling their teams to success.

In the first two parts of this three-part series, I shared tips that are crucial to creating a purpose-driven culture as a manager, like co-creating team rules, exploring the value of people outside of their work, the importance of providing clear direction and reminding your team of the why. Below are the remaining leadership techniques that require emotional intelligence, reflection and more in order to take your leadership style to the next level to effectively lead your team.

Meet Your Three New Allies: Listening, Empathy and Accountability

A core principle found in Zen Buddhism and modern Mindfulness is a distinction between how we live in relation to the doing and the being. Most of us have been taught to focus on the doing aspect of leadership: fixing, problem solving, and achieving. You can think of this as the what part of our daily lives. Although this is a necessary portion of leadership, it is not sufficient. It’s imperative that we are also aware of the being: this is how we show up. As leaders supporting others, we have three core muscles that will prove to be some of our most trusted allies to foster this “being” portion of our leadership approach:

  • Listening: Arguably the most important of all leadership skills, listening allows others to feel valued and connected. While many of us believe we are good listeners, the truth is that most of us have a very long way to go. Check for common traps in your own listening, including distraction, listening with the intent to respond, cognitive bias or assumption. Instead, be intentional about practicing deep, active listening by staying present, staying curious, and employing all senses. Effective listening goes beyond our ears; it means paying attention to body language and intuition as well.
  • Empathy: We have all heard the importance of putting ourselves in others’ shoes, and yet, as the pressures & deadlines increase, we seem to often forget this principle. The recent pandemic and its impact on those struggling to balance work, family and health simultaneously has made this leadership skill more critical than ever. 

    The act of empathy can be broken up into three parts: visualization, feeling and remembering. One must actively visualize what a day in the life may look like for an employee to understand where they may be coming from. Consider their life both in the workplace and outside. Make an effort to take this into account in order to understand how they might feel. Identify what emotions might be present for them as they balance the competing demands of home, work and other pressures. Remember to stay humble and never forget what it was like in the early part of your own career and make an effort to listen – not fix – as a way to convey empathy to your employee.

  • Accountability: Perhaps one of the biggest challenges reported to me by the leaders I coach is that of how to balance empathy with accountability. The first thing to know is that the two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive, as many of us have been taught to believe. We can lead with both qualities. When leading others, a huge part of accountability is the art of delegation and empowerment. Given that establishing trust for both the manager and team member is crucial relative to the topic of delegation & empowerment, ask yourself these questions:

Do they understand? Successful delegation is built on ensuring that the team member accepting the task has clarity of what is being asked of them. Far too often, challenges occur because information was not clearly communicated.  

Are they capable and equipped? The key to proper delegation and empowerment is equipping the employee with the tools necessary to succeed. A foundational aspect of this lies in ensuring they have had proper support – including training – to complete the job properly. Be hyper-explicit about empowerment and what the team member owns. Far too often, challenges occur because people are led to believe that they have ownership over a particular area when they actually do not. To combat this, create a R.A.C.I. structure.

Do they have the desire? Sometimes, team members may understand and be well equipped to succeed, but simply not have the will or desire. When this occurs, it’s important to have a candid conversation about what is getting in the way for the team member. Refer to the feedback section in part two of this series.

Walk the Talk and Talk the Walk

“Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.”
-Pearl Strachan Hurd  

One of the most important things to keep in mind when leading others is to remember that your words and behaviors matter – often far more than we may think. Those who we are leading are carefully listening to, closely watching and often modeling our behaviors in ways we often aren’t aware. This emphasizes the importance of identifying and modeling the beliefs and behaviors that are important to you, your team and the organization. Remember that nothing destroys trust or followership faster than leaders who don’t walk the talk. Whatever you do, be sure that your behaviors are consistent with your words.

Building trust, accountability, and respect are crucial steps in developing an effective team. Good leaders focus on listening, empathy, and accountability, but great leaders model these behaviors consistently. If you are looking to explore your leadership style further, take a look at the other two installments in my New to Management series.