“Our ability to be daring leaders will never be greater than our capacity for vulnerability.” ~Brené Brown
I’ve been in management for a long time, bordering two decades.
So long, the word “management” makes me shudder.
No one wants to be managed especially not micro-managed. We all crave to be led.
A lot of what I’ve learned, I’ve learned from being the employee of some terrible managers.
Another piece of my leadership pie is from coming across exceptionally talented leaders, in human form, through many books, resources, and great Harvard Business Review articles.
The most important piece of my approach has come from the feedback I’ve received from my teams and leaders. And Brené Brown, because hot damn, that brilliant woman gets it.
Here are 10 of the most valuable things I’ve gained along the way:
1. “Be cool. Don’t get lost. If you get lost, be cool.”
In the midst of chaos, I was pulled aside by my leader while learning a new leadership role and finding my footing. Instead of saying I looked like a chicken with my head cut off, he simply said the above statement.
It’s a heavy burden to carry, but if we are anxious, we’ll have an anxious team. Be bitter, they’ll be bitter, too. Be a truth bringing optimist, with solutions, and find things to celebrate, and that’s what you will cultivate in your team.
2. High connect, low direct.
This has proved valuable in my life again and again. When you settle in with a new team in any role, spend a minimum of two weeks getting to know your team. Get to know them really well—as humans. Beyond their employment. What matters to them. Why they’re there.
After you’ve done so, when you shift into a place of leadership, you will have a team that is highly aware that you care about them, as people. Let them see your humor, let them know their amazing qualities. It makes any difficult conversation in the future a place of growth, instead of discomfort.
3. EQ can be increased, IQ cannot, yet EQ is far more important.
You can be the smartest person in the room with all the answers, but without a strong level of emotional intelligence, you’re not going to inspire and ignite those around you. If you take things going awry personally and it comes through in your delivery, you lose an important opportunity for growth within yourself, and the human being in front of you.
The grace and humility in which we handle conflict as leaders can truly break down barriers within teams. Understanding emotional intelligence and continuing to develop it within yourself, is one of the best gifts you can give to the world, personally and professionally. Listen to understand, not to respond. Remember this Brené gem when it is your turn to respond: “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”
4. Know your top performers, acknowledge your top performers, and put the most energy into your top performers. Period.
This is not an invitation to practice favoritism, though it’s important to know who your top performers are and the following things:
Top performers put out an average of 400% more work than an average employee.
The top reason they quit is that they tend to absorb more workload without any recognition, while you’re spending your time with employees who don’t care as much as they do.
Recognize them. Compensate them. Grow them. Pour your energy into them.
You’ll watch the rest of your team observe what they need to do to get that kind of attention, and you’ll pour more life into the ones who are truly kicking some ass. They’ll share their energy, bring others with them, and they’ll stay and grow into leaders themselves. Guide others to success and hold them accountable, but if they refuse growth, keep your energy on the ones that are genuinely working the hardest. The ones who don’t want to step up in the first place will see their way out, or even better, you might find out what they are needing to become a top performer, too.
5. Know burnout. Don’t deny it. Don’t work through it. You are doing others a disservice.
Whether you need a week or two off, or life has completely derailed you and you need to step away for much longer, don’t swallow your burnout and power through. It will come through in your interactions and it will affect your team. It’s okay, and necessary, to walk away at times. If you feel the signs of burnout coming on, pay attention, swiftly. You truly cannot pour from an empty cup.
6. Never use an “Us vs. Them” mentality and make certain it’s clear where you stand.
Whether it’s one crew against the other, consumer versus employees, management versus subordinates, big huge nope. Squash that if it exists anywhere in your team.
Treat everything with oneness and you’ll see the payoff. We are truly all in this together.
7. Your employees probably know more than you.
There’s a certain disconnect that you face, eventually, as a leader. You spend a long time building yourself in a career and you earn a certain seniority. Though, it’s in my most humble moments where I have allowed myself to feel uncomfortable and accept feedback, where I’ve had the opportunity to grow the most.
Maybe you’ve done the role before, but you’re not the one doing it right now. Ask questions. Even though you can do it damn well doesn’t mean you’re always right.
8.“If he thinks you like him, he’ll be better for you.”
This one I learned from a really complex and crass fellow when I groomed dogs in a past life, in a little suburb outside of Boston. He hated people, but he loved dogs. There was a particular dog, a quite crazy and energetic dog, who would not behave while in the tub.
I didn’t quite realize then that it would be the most impactful piece I learned. After observing the struggle, he pushed me aside, said the above statement, proceeded to speak in a loving, happy, excited tone, and let the pup get all his wiggles out. He then demonstrated how well-behaved he was for him, handed back the water sprayer, and walked off like he had bestowed some magical wisdom upon me.
Only, he had.
I began to show the dog genuine excitement and love, and he danced with his paws and let me bathe him, and finish his grooming. He annoyed me so much five minutes prior. I found myself finding all of the sweet things there were to like about him and he was my favorite dog that day.
I also realized that there’s usually something to like about most people. I can tell it weirds some people out, but I’d rather be quirky and like people than find a whole lot of reasons to dislike someone. This piece must be genuine or it reeks of manipulation. Challenge yourself in this, and you may find a hidden gem amongst your team, as you level up your empathy. Someone who has a quality you dislike may be one of your most valuable teachers.
9. Be a storyteller.
In a true Brené Brown fashion, tell your story. If you’re watching someone struggle with something you’ve struggled with before, tell your story. Get connected. Tell people why you care. Let them learn how to tell their story, from you. Be the reason someone finds their voice. I’m not telling you to spend 45 minutes giving someone a full TedTalk, but never underestimate how sharing how you were once embarrassed or frustrated for the same reasons, or sharing a moment of inspiration, more importantly, can impact the trajectory of someone’s outlook and be what they’re needing in that moment.
10. Never, ever, disregard the power of encouragement.
The most meaningful moments in my career as a leader have been the notes, the books, the cards, the simple acts that say: “You are valued and I see your amazing efforts.”
The times I’ve felt the best is when I’ve been able to give back.
Some of my favorite moments are coming across those trinkets years later or receiving a message with an expression of gratitude for the times I’ve returned the favor.
There’s a lot of self-development that goes into being a leader. What I’ve learned beyond everything else:
It’s not about you. It may have been before. Though, when you settle into leadership, it’s about them. When you see the seeds you’ve planted grow, you’ll know exactly why.
We desperately need more leaders who are committed to courageous, wholehearted leadership and who are self-aware enough to lead from their hearts, rather than unevolved leaders who lead from hurt and fear. ~Brené Brown