- They don’t use possessive pronouns.
One of the best ways to tell if a leader has evolved is how they share credit with other people. Do they use “we” and “our” pronouns? Or are they always saying “me” and “my”? The minute you use a possessive pronoun as a leader, you are putting yourself above the people you lead. It’s a sign of an undeveloped leader and it will create a chasm between you and your team that will be hard to overcome. Continued over time, it will create resentment and ultimately diminish your effectiveness. Your people will always play a part in your success and making sure you continue to recognize them will create more loyalty and job satisfaction.
- They step aside and give their people the spotlight.
This isn’t always easy to do. After all, you played a part in their success, right? You want some credit too, yes? While you probably deserve it, you can never be the one demanding it. Here’s the truth: continuing to remind someone how unpolished they were in the beginning or taking credit for someone’s success will only diminish your effectiveness with top performers. It’s okay to occasionally reminisce about how far someone has come but your job is to talk about the future and to continue to paint a bigger picture for their success. If you don’t, top people will outgrow you. Worse, they won’t value your influence anymore. Creating a platform for your people to shine is a great gift you can, and should, offer your people. Any attempt to elevate you, instead of them, will be construed as “arrogant” or “insecure.” It will also set up a competition. They will be trying to prove they could do it without you and you will be attempting to prove they couldn’t. It’s quite silly when you think about it and it truly doesn’t even matter. If you always try to make sure you get credit for things, you will never gain the total trust of your people. Ever. I can tell you, having one of my team say thank you or comment in any way that I have assisted them in their success, is the greatest gift of leadership. It’s the ultimate “Be Big” feeling for me.
- They are secure.
Once you are leading the team, it is implied that you are valued, and your worth is established. Many leaders try to justify their promotion when they don’t need to. You were promoted for a reason. Own that. Rely on your own evaluation as opposed to giving your power to those that might not see the bigger picture. While it is a good idea to solicit feedback, that doesn’t mean you should be completely defined by it. Instead, integrate the information with what your own truth is and by all means, learn who you should and shouldn’t listen to.
- They tell the truth.
That goes for policy and performance. They answer tough questions without a lot of fluff and aren’t afraid of other people’s reactions. Often the leader is tasked with delivering news that will create a change for the team. Perhaps it’s a price increase, a new bonus structure, an increase in quota, a violation of the dress code, etc. Whatever it is, be prepared for potentially volatile conversations and never avoid them. Your ability to deliver and lead people through change will be easier if you can cut through the fog and just tell the truth. People respond better to change when the leadership is confident and transparent. Most people don’t respond well when they are left in the dark or someone seems apologetic.Progressive leaders also tell the truth about performance. I was recently consulting with a company that let a top person go because he wasn’t effective in his role. I asked what “not effective” meant and was told: “He was taking on too much work in the plant and not doing enough of the administrative part of his position.” I asked how he responded to the initial conversation explaining he was falling short, and there was dead silence, then, “He just should have known.” Really? How should he have known? Don’t ever assume top performers know what your expectations are. It’s all too common that we unknowingly set people up to fail. We think they are smart enough to figure it out and then we are upset when they don’t. You can’t hesitate to coach them just because they are above average. No matter how good they are, they can be better. Leaving top performers alone because “they don’t need any hand-holding” is a mistake. Only leaders that have nothing to offer could justify that point of view. Even then, you would be smart to stay more connected so you can learn from them.
Lastly, those top performers provide the best opportunity for growth in your company and on your team. They will be able to integrate the feedback faster than you can get non-performers to overcome inertia.
- They understand how to manage up.
We’ve covered dealing with your team but what about the people you report to? Sometimes it is smart to make sure your wins are visible to those deciding your future. If you aren’t tooting your own horn, who will? I’m lucky. I have some amazing business partners that I know have my back. They are gracious to speak about my strengths on my behalf. Also, when I miss the mark, they will tell me. When I’m over the line, they will nudge me back to center. When I’m under attack, as we all are at one time or another, they come to my defense. They will not let my body of work or reputation be devalued by a misstep here or there (by the way, you know who you are and thank you).If you aren’t as lucky, you will have to make sure you “sell” yourself. Not an obnoxious conversation about how amazing you are but a strategic one that addresses what you are focusing on and what your priorities are. Put together a snapshot of your victories. Check in with your superiors (I hate that term but it captures the point here) and make sure you are meeting their expectations. Never forget, the best way to promote your success is by promoting the performance of your people. Having top performers on your team is the best reflection of an Exceptional Leader.
- They continue to grow as a person and as a leader.
Your number one client is the people you lead. Their growth and success are tied to yours. Stay curious. Learn all you can about your company, your services, your market, your industry, and your team. Don’t just know enough to get the job done. Know more and do more than is required. I’ve seen leaders get to the top, not realizing the ladder never ends. More rungs will be added and more people will be vying for the coveted positions. Don’t get lazy. Don’t get comfortable. Don’t ever think you have arrived. Your best today will be expected tomorrow. Your people and your teams will continue to get better and so should you.