Stepping in to lead

By Barb Ward

It has always been your dream to be a leader, everything in your life up until now has led you to this point. You know what you need to make you successful, and you’ve taken steps to get you there. You  are motivated, you’ve honed your communication skills, you’re in tune with other peoples’ feelings, you’ve fine-tuned your ability to connect and build trusting relationships, you lead by example … YOU. ARE. READY.

 

Until you step into your new role. As the first few weeks roll out, you realize that your employees need more from you than you imagined. And let’s be honest, it takes a lot of energy. There has not been a time in recent history that has required more from leaders than throughout the Covid pandemic. But regardless of the circumstances requiring you to step up, there are ways to prepare yourself that will allow you to be the best leader you can be in any situation.

The fact is, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all perfect style and method of leadership, it’s much more complicated than that. Different individuals, teams, and circumstances require you to access different gifts and skills. Some will feel comfortable and familiar, and others will require you to stretch out of your comfort zone to learn and become adept at new skills.

So, how do you address the needs of your people BEFORE they ask? Granted, you probably won’t be able to meet all of the needs all of the time, but these tips offer a place to start.

Create an environment of belonging. All people, whether they will admit it or not, crave belonging. When your staff feels accepted, valued, and appreciated you begin building trusting relationships as well as engaged employees who are loyal to you and the organization.

Listen. Asking for the perspectives of your team members can offer insight that you may not have otherwise seen. They have different experiences than you and can often broaden the scope of your thinking and bring forward suggestions and solutions you would not have identified on your own.

Grant autonomy. Provide employees the latitude to work in the way they work best. Giving your staff permission to try new things and make mistakes not only makes them feel trusted and valued, it increases their creativity, innovation, and productivity, which is a win-win all the way around.

Provide parameters. While autonomy is important, it is equally important that employees understand the expectations and standards. There are few things more stressful than not knowing what your boss wants or needs from you from one day to the next. So, if there are rules and procedures that must be followed, make sure they are crystal clear to every member of your team.

Make them part of the mission. As part of an organization, we are all part of something bigger. Make sure your employees know what that is, as well as how their specific job helps uphold that mission.

Ask for input. When you are seeking a solution to a situation, ask for input. While not every suggestion will be actionable, listening to possible solutions, and talking through why they will, or won’t work makes your team part of the process and they will feel valued for their ideas.

Care about them. Take the opportunity often to check in and see if your employees need anything from you. Open the day’s conversation with a question about weekend plans, or family. Offer a quick compliment on the work they’ve been doing. Communication and caring is important, and it goes much further towards building relationships, connection and motivation than any detailed weekly meeting could ever accomplish.

Lead by example. Be a leader, not a manager. Managing employees is about meeting deadlines, staying on budget, and making sure everyone knows their role, etc. These are all important tasks to ensure an efficiently run department, but in addition, a leader inspires, he/she lays the vision that sparks creativity, inspiration, and belonging. A leader knows the rules to follow and also knows how to be flexible, manage priorities, and see challenges as opportunities that can make your team and organization better.

Before you know it, you will have mastered these steps to becoming a great leader, and you will likely have discovered a few additional gems along the way. We invite you to share your insights with us. What have you learned through your experiences?