The best leaders never stop helping employees succeed. But before you can help them, you must first help yourself. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Quint Studer shares tips on how to
love your team by holding up the mirror…and giving them the gift of a better you.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, you may be looking for ways to show your employees that you care. Instead of handing out cards, flowers, or candy, why not give them a really meaningful gift? Quint Studer says the best way to show employees love is by becoming a better version of you.
“When we focus on becoming a better leader and a better person, we may well create a stronger company,” says Studer, author of Wall Street Journal bestseller The Busy Leader’s Handbook: How to Lead People and Places That Thrive (Wiley, October 2019). “That’s a great outcome for everyone. But it also allows us to do a better job of developing employees and helping them become the best they can be.”
As leaders we can take people only as far as we’ve taken ourselves, insists Studer. It’s why in all of his presentations and writings he focuses on holding up the mirror: becoming self-aware, staying humble and coachable, and doing the inner work it takes to grow and improve.
It’s also why the first third of The Busy Leader’s Handbook focuses on “The Leader in You.” It’s only when we master our own attitudes, mindsets, and capabilities that we’ll be able to create the kind of positive and engaging workplace culture that allows others to put forth their best efforts, grow, thrive, and find a powerful sense of meaning.
“In the workplace, creating this kind of culture is how we show love,” says Studer. “But it begins internally, inside a leader’s heart and head.”
Here are some steps you can take to continue growing into a better version of yourself:
Get your ego out of the way. Great leaders bring out the best in others. This cannot happen when you’re too attached to your own ideas or convinced you’re the smartest person in the room. Pay attention to when you’re shining the spotlight on yourself and redirect to others. Focus on constant improvement and growth. Remind yourself often of all that you don’t know—this will help you deflate your own ego and move toward humility, which is one of the most crucial qualities a leader can possess.
Build strong humility habits. Great leadership isn’t about being right. It isn’t about being the smartest person in the room. It’s about seeing yourself as you truly are. It’s about knowing your strengths and weaknesses. It’s about taking yourself out of the center of the equation and keeping the spotlight on others. If you suspect you aren’t a humble leader, it’s absolutely crucial to work on quieting the ego so that you’re open to learning and focused on continuous improvement and growth. A few ways to get in the habit of practicing humility:
- Give others credit by pushing compliments down to the team.
- Never ask your team to do anything you aren’t willing to do yourself.
- Don’t lock yourself in your office; work with the team, spend time with them, and be approachable.
- Foster a culture of psychological safety so people feel “safe” enough to tell you the truth.
- Don’t put yourself down or deny compliments.
Pause often and connect to kindness. Pauses are important. They are the space between what we want to do or say and the moment we take action. Many times, not taking action or saying the words on the tip of our tongue is the better choice. When leaders forget to pause, we can do a lot of harm. We may cause employees to become disengaged, or alienate our colleagues, or lose clients and customers.
“Each day, take more time to pause,” says Studer. “In that space, decide what is needed. It could be empathy, patience, forgiveness, or something else that will improve matters greatly. But it can’t happen without the pause.”
Each day, put yourself into “beginner’s mind.” Start off each day by setting the intention to learn something new. This will serve you far better than having an attitude of “This is not what I’m interested in.” Instead, ask yourself how whatever you are learning could apply to you. If it is not useful to you now, perhaps it might become useful later.
Regularly ask for feedback and make sure people feel safe enough to tell you the truth. Whether you’re getting the team’s perspective on a decision you’re trying to make or asking how things are going with their jobs (and your leadership) in general, it’s important to foster a culture of psychological safety. Leading with humility means always seeking out the truth, especially if it’s something you might not really want to hear.
Build up your resilience. The sooner you realize setbacks are going to happen, the better off you’ll be. What is most important is learning to bounce back from them. When chaos occurs within an organization, we as leaders must maintain the mental wherewithal to support and guide our teams. Our resilience grows when we have strong coping skills, a sense of optimism, grit, mental and physical stamina, and an environment with plenty of psychological safety.
Communicate regularly, even when there isn’t any “news.” Employees need to always know what is going on inside their organization. Don’t assume that your employees know certain things; chances are good that they do not. Further, don’t shy away from delivering bad news.
“When things are tough, people imagine the worst,” says Studer. “Your visibility and communication are vital during these times.”
Make your expectations clearly known. Conflicts can occur when you don’t communicate what you expect from others. Vague directions (or none at all) can cause employees to make mistakes or go down the wrong path, and then you must confront them. Keep in mind that most people want to do what’s right and will do the right thing when they are clear on what the right thing is. Head off a lot of conflict by always being very clear about what you expect.
If you make a mistake, say so. Admit when you are wrong. People appreciate vulnerability in leadership. Don’t let pride control you or waste energy trying to pass yourself off as perfect. If you have made a mistake, apologize sincerely and move on. The words “I was wrong” will always serve you and can help to reset any relationships.
Be willing to change your mind. A byproduct of learning new information is the ability to adapt and change your mind. Many people think of strong leaders as being decisive and unwavering when there are decisions to be made. They may view changing your mind as a sign weakness. It’s not. It’s actually a sign that you can learn and grow in real time. Have the courage to course correct when new information reveals itself.
Never run from conflict. As leaders, we have to be able to handle conflict or we’re not doing our job. When leaders perpetually avoid conflict, communication breakdowns occur, important decisions are delayed or not made at all, high performers leave, and people begin to see you as a weak leader. Commit to handling conflict in a productive and healthy manner.
Yes, it’s uncomfortable…but don’t be afraid to disrupt yourself. Regularly reevaluate your department or organization. Put it on the schedule and make sure it really happens. Often, doing this helps you learn that what you believe is happening inside the company is not actually occurring. This is a great opportunity to disrupt yourself and make needed changes to keep your organization performing at its best. Push through any discomfort you feel throughout this process—remember, discomfort is normal, and leaders need to get used to it. You also need to help employees get used to taking action that makes them feel unsettled.
“None of us can ever reach perfection, but great leaders commit to being their best each day,” concludes Studer. “We can keep getting better and better. It’s tough, but we really owe it to our employees. It’s how we inspire them to become their best selves as well, which is really what love looks like in action.”