Despite all the models of leadership, the theories and much of the talk the best insight for each of us on how to be a leader people want to follow for most of us lies hidden in our own experience. All we have to do is recall that special boss who made us want to go to work, who inspired us at work and made work a pleasure. What they did each day to get you to give your best is the same as you need to do to get that from others.
Is it a long list of complex actions? Does it vary with sectors or culture? The answer is no to both. For 15 years I have asked every audience I have spoken to around the world what their best boss did which inspired them to give their best, that’s over 20,000 people. Consistently every audience gave me the same list of about 12 simple day to day actions great leaders do to build a powerful emotional bond with their people, from ask for ideas to show you care, from understand genuine mistakes to backing me up and telling me what’s going on. From Financial Services leaders in New York to retail leaders in Rome to rocket scientists in Beijing, and IT leaders in India, always the same list.
Neuroscience and psychology explain much of why this happens. Its powered by the creation of a positive emotional relationship between your boss and you which triggers your positive response. At its most basic the day to day actions a great boss takes is simply to show they care about you as a person and as a professional in your role. This is really simple stuff – not rocket science as I told leaders of the Chinses Space Programme when speaking in Beijing!
So here is the summary list from all those leaders insights. That’s probably what your best boss did as well, and that’s what you should focus on:
Kept me informed about what was going on
Explained how what I did contributed to the big picture
Set realistic but challenging targets
Created a positive team/organisational culture
Respected me as a professional and a person
Backed me up when required
Developed my skills and career
Acted with integrity
Led by example, but was part of the team
Listened to what I said and asked for my ideas
Showed they genuinely cared about me
Didn’t blame me for genuine mistakes
Let me get on with things and didn’t interfere – empowered me
Gave me regular feedback on how I was doing and could get better
Was fair and treated me decently
Inspired me with their enthusiasm
Was honest and open
Built trust and transparency
Praised me and encouraged me when due
Its interesting to think about how many of the above focus just on getting specific tasks done and how many on creating and environment where you are inspired to give your best all the time – there’s a big difference. The environment these actions create not only get tasks done but also enable more innovation, smoother change & transformation, better customer service, being a proactive brand ambassador, even cost efficiency and optimising risk management.