Strong leadership may be the most essential aspect of any group; public or private, corporate or nonprofit. Without quality at the top, it’s hard to make the rest work properly. Of course, part of being a successful and effective leader means knowing what is going on at all levels of your company. A leader can be proficient in all fields, but if they don’t have the trust of their employees, the company is going nowhere.
There’s no “perfect” way to lead. What works in one field can be completely inappropriate for another. But there are qualities and practices that are essential for any leader to be in tune with everything that’s going on within their company. Primarily, keeping in touch with everything that happens under their purview. These are some of the pulse-checking guidelines that any successful leader ought to follow.
Establish a Rapport
A motivated employee is a productive employee. One of the best established motivators for workers is the feeling that their voices are being heard. Going beyond just listening, having a healthy back-and-forth will communicate to your staff that your goals are in line with theirs and that everyone is on the same page. You’ll also prevent the hopeless feeling that their concerns are ignored or not valued. If they feel invested in a relationship with you, they’ll feel invested in the company.
Empower your Employees Through Intrapreneurship
One of the most effective ways to empower your employees (and increase their engagement at work) may well be intrapreneurship, wherein employees act as entrepreneurs, bringing their ideas from concept to fruition under the umbrella of your company. Amazon, in particular, is famous for this: for instance, their drone delivery initiative was conceived and led by a low-level engineer. And intrapreneurship offers a number of key benefits as well: your most energetic, entrepreneurial employees will stay in order to execute their vision, and more importantly, your company will be strengthened, both by a more engaged, innovative workforce, as well as lower turnover.
Bosses are tasked with leading, guiding, and inspiring their employees. Towards that end, they have a measure of power over their subordinates: what is done with this power, however, is the difference between a successful leader and a failure. Without being condescending or insulting, pure, honest feedback done right (a mixture of positive and negative) will signal to your employees that you’re paying attention to what they’re doing. Surveys have shown that workers are happier when they feel a sense of engagement with their work. Your feedback shows them you’re engaged, and expect them to feel the same way.
There are several ways to get your employees to let down their defenses and speak up about concerns. Make it clear that there’s no need to stand on ceremony, and that being the boss doesn’t mean you only want to hear pleasant news. Initiate informal conversations where you make it clear that livelihoods are not at stake. As former General Electric CEO Jack Welch has said, “as a manager, you owe candor to your people.” You’ll gain respect, rather than lose it, if there’s an honest back and forth between you and those you are in charge of.
One on One Meetings
Having that rapport with your employees will be the most valuable thing for keeping tabs on what’s happening around you. Going further, keeping up with them means you’re getting the most accurate picture possible of how and what they’re thinking. While regular group meetings are not going away, more personal one-on-ones can encourage greater trust, higher morale, and sharper focus among your workforce. As for you, you’ll be getting a more nuanced and comprehensive look at how your employees feel about their work, and ideas for improvement.
Know the Work
Taking the pulse of your organization also means having a tight grasp of what it is your employees do on a daily basis. Even if you’re in constant communication, without putting yourself in their shoes once in awhile, you risk being out of touch. To look at one famous example, Bill Gates himself even took a Microsoft customer service call back in 1990. The customer was unaware he was talking to the billionaire CEO, but was taken by his impeccable service and even requested “that nice man named William” when he called back. Put yourself in the shoes of an everyday customer service rep and read that story. How does it make you feel about your CEO?
Ongoing Performance Reviews
The old, dreaded quarterly performance review is going the way of the fax machine. Companies like Adobe, IBM, Deloitte, and many others have ditched the “corporate kabuki” of predictable regular performance reviews with more frequent and personal appraisals. Research has found that traditional performance reviews foster competition and discourage collaboration. Instead, more informal meetings to discuss performance not only build your relationships with your employees, but allow you to address concerns in a way that feels less like they’re being called into the principal’s office and more like a respectful conversation.
While it may seem obvious, all of these strategies are based on regular, back and forth communication and thus cannot be something you switch on and off when you feel it suits you. Following up on these sessions with specifics keeps the flow of information moving and gives you the honest feedback you’re looking for. In essence, you’ve been creating relationships with every team member to improve engagement, both theirs and yours. Listening to the needs of your employees and maintaining those lines of communication is the key to keeping up with the pulse of your company.
In the end, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every leader. After all, each organization faces different conditions, circumstances, employees, and bosses. With that being said, it’s still incredibly important for leaders to keep a finger on the pulse of their company. After all, the worst bosses are those who are out of touch with their employees, which can lead to unrealistic expectations, higher turnover, and ultimately, a bad work environment.