Want to be a good leader? Respond to employees as individuals

leadership employees as individuals

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Good leaders respond to employees as individuals

how to coach a leader
Bruce Mayhew

In part one of our series on coaching and leadership, coach and mentor Bruce Mayhew gave an overview on being a good leader.

In this part two, Bruce explains how best leaders understand that good leaders respond to employees as individuals. The are flexible and can implement new leadership skills and, ultimately, learn how to coach themselves.

You’ve talked about good leaders seeing employees as both a team and individuals. Is this hard to achieve? How’s it done?

Individuals have to be responsible for their own performance – but they have to also be committed to the team.

Great leaders spend time getting to know what each employees’ needs/goals are and help them achieve them.

It’s about responding to employees as individuals. For example, some people may want to move their career forward while others are happy with where they are and like the stability. Leaders need to be able to know what the team needs and to 1. Hire based on those needs, and 2. Motivate team members as individuals and as team members accordingly.

Coach vs mentor

What’s the difference between a coach and mentor, and how can a good leader know when to be a coach or mentor? What are the signals he should look for?

As a coach it’s your job to be curious but stay out of the way. It’s the employees’ choice to determine their need and their goals, it’s also their choice what action they take. As the coach you need to be curious and be present but also put aside their personal and professional opinions, preferences and needs. You are not there to provide solutions; your employees have to find their answers.

As a mentor it is your job to be a bit more engaged in guiding the employee than a coach. Mentors introduce employees to other people, open doors to opportunities, give advice, shares their experiences and can even teach the employee how to do certain things. A mentor is usually an ongoing relationship that is focused on supporting the short and long-term development of the employee.

What is leading from behind?

A leader must lead from behind – many of us have heard this. What exactly does it mean and, more importantly, how’s it done?

This gets back to the 80 per cent soft skills idea. Leading from behind means: If 20 per cent of the leader’s work is strategic – they set the vision – they define the big picture. This is the old-school component of leadership that is still important.

If 80 per cent (leading from behind), of a leader’s work is supportive, it means they now hand over HOW to their team(s). The leader cannot have all of the expertise in today’s market to know and be an expert at everything. The team has to now use their expertise to make the dream happen.

The leader watches from behind and makes sure the team is doing things like:

  • Being responsible
  • Moving the project forward
  • Hitting the deadlines
  • Has the resources they need
  • Is being creative / collaborating / sharing responsibility based on each of their expertise
  • Is meeting the budget
  • Bringing challenges forward

If the leader sees this is not happening – they step in and help solve the challenge and get the team back on track – but they do not go in and start dictating all of the decisions.

Tapping into internal motivators

I remember reading a survey that revealed that most people’s number one reward for work is not money; that’s usually second or third on the list of motivations. At the top of the list are things like contributing, self-worth, or sense of achievement. How can a leader tap into these internal motivators to bring about the best in an employee?

The survey you read is correct for almost all people. Some people (very few) are still only motivated by money. For Millennials motivators are very important.

Leaders have to know what the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators are for each of their employees. You do this by having regular conversations with them . . . I would hate to think of it as a test or survey to take.

This year my intrinsic motivator may be work flexibility because I have a parent who is ill. Next year my intrinsic motivator may sway closer to achievement and career goals. But, if a leader treats everyone the same – or as if the year-end bonus is all that matters, they will have a loyalty / retention AND motivation problem… not to mention a performance and likely, a customer satisfaction problem.

Workplace flexibility/Virtual work spaces is an important part of this . . . but has to be seen as one option not the only option. Why? Because I may need flexibility and you may not. And if the company decides to go 100 per cent virtual, then they have a whole other challenge on their hands which is a far bigger discussion than individual leadership. (A discussion I am happy to have).

It’s a matter of trust

Employees, especially Millennials and Gen Z, want to do quality work, where they KNOW they are making a difference, where they know they are growing – gaining new skill and where they feel appreciated. They want to trust and be trusted. Trust can be a sticking point. How can employees earn trust, and how can leaders modify their coaching/style so that they are responsive to older and younger employees?

Leaders have to show they know and trust their individual employees. Leaders must also show they know and trust their teams.

Employees and teams have to keep that trust by meeting goals, working collaboratively, coming to their leaders early… when they need help, taking the responsibility they are asking for and not falling short / letting down the leader and/or team.

How to coach a leader  . . . yourself

When your work with a leader ends, what must they do to ensure they remain a strong leader?

They have to want to be one because they want to be a great/strong leader . . . not for money or power . . . especially power. Great leaders don’t crave power – they crave impact.

Bruce Mayhew

Bruce Mayhew is a corporate trainer, professional conference speaker and executive coach. He specializes in soft skills communication training like email etiquette training, leadership, motivation, generational differences (Millennials At work/Generations@Work), time management, having difficult conversations, emotional intelligence (EI) and hiring best practices. Find Bruce on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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