Russ Reeder | H.E.A.R Leadership
HEAR the Truth
Honest and Respectful Leaders Make a Difference
A lot has been said about what personality traits and management styles great leaders need to have to succeed. A lot has also been said about how nice leaders finish last. I disagree with that approach, and I will try and share some of my leadership philosophies that I have applied to both my professional and personal life with great success.
I call it H.E.A.R. leadership:
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
Being a great leader means that it’s no longer about you. It’s only about the people you lead and the growth and success that they experience. As a leader, you have an amazing opportunity to change not only the lives of the people around you, but the many others that touch the people that you lead. In this post, I will dive into what honesty means to your success as a leader.
The bedrock of the H.E.A.R. leadership philosophy is honesty. It is not only the first step, but also the hardest. I’m not saying it’s hard to tell the truth, I’m saying that it is hard to be totally candid with people while continuing to motivate them. In today’s transparent social economy, successful leaders need to be utterly honest with the people they lead without insulting them.
That level of honesty has to start with yourself, with a deep knowledge of your innate strengths and weaknesses, both as a leader and as a person. If you are not honest with yourself, how can you be honest with others? Which is why the very first step to successfully implementing H.E.A.R. leadership and taking your team (and your life) to the next level is making an honest assessment of who you really are.
Do a S.W.O.T. analysis on yourself and own the results.
- Strengths. Successful leaders naturally focus on what they are good at, and hire people to cover their weaknesses. Identifying strengths will remind you what to focus on.
- Weaknesses. Own up to your weak areas. Do not hide them and, more importantly, do not try and fix all weaknesses. Yes, you may need to fix some of them, but, by surrounding yourself with great people who have strengths that complement your weaknesses, you will be able to focus on doing more of what you excel at.
- Opportunities. Opportunities are a greenfield for both your team and your personal development. Those should be actionable elements in your team or yourself that can positively affect change, immediately.
- Threats. What obstacles do you face? What is or will be standing in your way? Keep threats on the table and make sure to revisit them often to ensure your strategies for progress and communication are adequate – and effective!
- Go into this process with an open mind and celebrate your imperfections. Your team will respond to humanness more than a projection of perfection. Most likely, you will not find anything new, but you will be reminded of your inner strengths and weaknesses. That being said, you will be amazed about the (positive!) things you’ve forgotten about yourself. You can use the results to affect positive change in the way you inspire your team and the others around you to succeed.
“But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”
— David Ogilvy
When you’re operating with honesty, you have the foundation to build on and make big things happen – to yourself, your team and many, many others that you will never even meet.
Empathy: One Skill Great Leaders Can’t Lack
In my first post, I touched on the first pillar of my H.E.A.R. leadership paradigm, an approach that focuses on building a culture of respect and high levels of transparency, anchored with honesty… and empathy. If honesty is the foundation of the H.E.A.R leadership philosophy, having and displaying empathy, i.e. leveraging your ability to relate to others’ emotions and thoughts, is a critical tool you will need to truly empower your team to push themselves and achieve great things.
“Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.”
– Steven Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Habit 5)
In other words, if you want to be a great leader, you have to face the fact that it’s no longer about you — it’s about the individuals you are leading and their perception of the world.
Empathy Leads to Increased Performance
Natural leaders have a unique capability to see through the facade and understand where their team members are coming from and how they see the world. Most people do not walk around with “their emotions on their sleeve.” Being an empathetic leader can be one of the most difficult leadership attributes to master. When you first seek to understand, genuine empathy enables you to put yourself in your team members’ shoes, acknowledge their emotions, build mutual respect, trust and understanding, which allows you to modify how you manage them at a different level. By understanding where people are, you will be able to help them get where you need them to be, resulting in each individual operating at their optimal performance.
What’s great about empathy is that it’s contagious. If you establish being empathetic as a part of your company’s culture, and especially among your managers, it will only make your entire organization stronger as it will trickle down the chain of command to empower every person, even your interns, to achieve greater, bigger, brighter things.
The more you understand what the needs and perspectives of your team are, the better you can tailor your leadership style to cater to their emotional needs, and help them succeed beyond expectations — including their own.
What’s your EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient)?
Being smart and technically skilled is not enough. A high level of emotional intelligence also distinguishes great leaders, who authentically care for their team’s needs and success. They never “show up and throw up” orders without taking the time to listen and understand in an empathetic way. Communication is a two-way street and, unless you understand where your people are, they will not completely hear or understand what you are saying/asking.
If you are not naturally a highly empathetic leader, though, I have some good news for you: empathy is not a fixed trait and can be learned. And this is how:
- Be more inquisitive. Use your best problem-solving skills to understand the state of mind that your team is in.
- Be careful of “your wake.” Become more aware of your own emotions, and work on understanding their potential (positive or negative) effect on others.
- Acknowledge others’ emotions as often as possible, and treat them accordingly by openly showing to them how you relate to them (sharing any relevant personal or professional experience usually helps).
- Listen, listen, and listen. Understand before trying to be understood.
- Be present. Give your team 100% of your attention when you are with them.
- Encourage and facilitate clear communication. Let your managers and team members know that empathy matters, and encourage them to communicate to you and each other in a frank (but respectful) fashion. If you have the resources, you can even consider bringing in a professional to open up your teams. At (mt) Media Temple, we’ve had great success facilitating open cross-department communication using a professional moderator.
- Last but not least: Always remember your passion for your work or your company, and try and share it with your teams in an authentic, optimistic way.
How building accountability can improve team performance
“No plan survives contact with the enemy.”
– Helmut von Moltke
Of course, I’m not implying that you can’t change your plan mid-year — it’s crucial to adapt as new information becomes available. What I’m saying is that failing to plan is definitely planning to fail. To be successful and help your team succeed, you need to not only prioritize the goals you and your team are trying to achieve, but also the many deliverables your team is accountable for. Without a plan, it’s impossible to verify what is urgent and what is just unimportant noise.
When teams understand their priorities, they understand how to allocate their time, focus and deliver. As their manager, helping remove the barriers, answering any questions they might have on a regular basis, and analyzing any new internal or external information that can change how they spend their time will enable you to set them up for success, and hold them accountable to what they have agreed to deliver.
People want to check items off their list, have accomplishments, feel valued and be rewarded. If you do not set up the right methodology to create and deliver on a plan, you are stealing the most important item from your team: self-respect. Achieving (and celebrating) wins against a plan isn’t just for team building and feeling good, it’s an essential tool for keeping your people on the right path. Enable them to deliver on a plan and be held accountable, and you will see your company hit and exceed your goals.
H.E.A.R.: Earn Respect