Old school, “My way or the highway,” leadership is just.not.working anymore.
On the other hand, nobody’s got time to sit in a sharing circle, either.
So here are six simple strategies to turn you into a more charismatic leader, so your team can get better results.
1) The Breadcrumb Method
People will work harder, longer and more effectively when they think something is their own idea. Ownership leads to excellence.
(Conversely, having someone else’s Big Idea foisted off on you leads to resentment, poor oversight, boredom, and fatigue. Not good.)
So the next time you have a Big Idea, try the Breadcrumb Method. That is to say, see if you can create a trail of ideas or thoughts that gently and naturally lead your team members to come to (your) conclusion or an even better idea.
When Jeff realized that the presentation the team had been working on for three weeks had a big, fat hole in the middle of it, he was tempted to barge into the office, point out the hole and say, “Fix it!” But, as a fan of the Breadcrumb Method, he instead sent a short message to two of the key team members saying, “I’ve had what is probably a terrible idea. But it keeps nagging at me. May I share it with you so that you can tell me that it’s terrible and I can get on with my life?”
Jeff’s team members encouraged him to share his “terrible” idea. As promised, his idea really wasn’t that great, but it did have a kernel of truth. Moreover, it pointed out the hole in the deck.
So his team 1) was now aware there was a hole 2) had a kernel of an idea they could develop. By the end of the day, they had created something wonderful, and presented it to Jeff like the proud parents they were.
2) Practice Being the Worst One in the Room
Make sure that you regularly put yourself in the position of not being the expert or the leader. Whether you take up CrossFit or chess, French cooking or Transcendental Meditation, video games or learning Latin, spending at least an hour a week in “beginner’s mind” will stimulate you in new ways. It will also help keep you humble, which is a fine quality.
This practice will raise your awareness and compassion for your less experienced team members. Noticing how uncomfortable it is to not be good at something and the frustration of making only incremental progress will open your eyes to the discomfort of others, and help you find new ways to set them up to succeed.
Also, learning new skills will enhance your existing skills, and keep your mind and body sharp—plus, it’s fun.
3) Enact Your Core Values
Core values are not abstract concepts to be appreciated, they are covenants. Finding unusual ways to bring your core values to life will invigorate your team, and will help your work be a force for good in the world.
For example, one of Infusionsoft’s core values is, “we face challenges with grit and optimism,” so, every single meeting begins with each person reporting something positive they’ve noticed recently. It’s a just a quick go-round that adds only 3 minutes of time to each meeting, but it gets everyone’s voice in the room right away (which also underlines the value of collaboration) and subtly directs everyone’s attention to what’s going right.
You can use your company’s core values, of course, or you can use your own. If you want creativity to flourish, then establish policies that support new thought. Even something simple, like having pipe cleaners on the conference table during meetings (creative people often think better when their hands are busy) can convey the value that “creativity matters.”
Challenge yourself to make policies, practices, and rituals that bring your core values to life. (Bonus points as soon as your team starts making fun of you for it. Good-natured mockery means those values are really starting to take hold.)
4) Actively Encourage Your Team’s Individual Interests and Projects
What if you gave your people the option of using the 30 minutes between 8am-8:30 am as “do your own thing” time? What if you encouraged your team to turn off their phones, email, and chat and instead spend that time writing, working, researching or doing whatever it takes to pursue the projects that matter to them.
Google allows employees to spend up to 20% of their time on individual side projects, and that freedom—one whole day a week—has lead to fantastic leaps in innovation and new products.
Try not to restrict their activities to things that relate directly to the company. Consider letting team members work on anything that grows them as a person, elevates their skills or expands their creativity. After all, when study after study shows that up to 76% of the workforce is disengaged, allowing them a half-hour of focused time spent on a meaningful project could lead to an office filled with people who are energized and glad to be there.
NOTE: Make it clear that this 30-minutes is dedicated to high-level, creative endeavors. This is not the time to be rescheduling your dentist appointment or catching up on discount shopping.
An additional benefit of this practice is that your team members will have something new to talk about, which will let them connect with each other in all new ways. When you find out that Sourpuss Sarah in the office down the hall is actually working on a collection of poetry, or that Lazy Larry is designing a new way to irrigate almond crops, bridges are built and the bonds of team grow stronger.
5) Romance Them
I once heard Lee Richter, a wildly successful entrepreneur (https://goasklee.com/), say that she has each of her new hires take the “Five Love Languages” quiz (https://www.5lovelanguages.com/). Then, every year on the anniversary of their hiring, each team member gets a reward commensurate with their favorite love language. So people who prefer “words of affirmation” get a letter or a plaque. Those who prefer “quality time” get to have lunch with the boss. “Gifts” people get gift certificates or a wrapped present, team members who enjoy “physical touch” get a certificate for the local spa, etc.
These simple recognitions permit her to reward people in a way that is most meaningful to them, and builds loyalty, respect, and even love.
6) Listen. With eye contact.
Giving someone your undivided attention is a rare compliment indeed. Standing still, holding gentle eye contact, and really listening to what someone is saying as they speak can have an absolutely magical effect.
Until they are used to it, some team members may get flustered by your undivided attention. That’s okay. Stay calm and patient. If they get lost, you can prompt them by simply repeating back to them what you’ve heard, “It sounds to me like you’re concerned about XYZ, is that right?”
You may be thinking, “I don’t have time for that! I can’t just stand there and listen to every last thing everyone says!” but what I have noticed is that once they got used to it, my team interrupted me much less often. Because they knew they were going to get my full attention, they tended to come to me better prepared, with greater intentionality.
For extra credit, consider scheduling a standing monthly 1:1 meeting with your team members, using that time to ask them about their goals, challenges and insights. Speak as little as possible during these meetings. Think of yourself as the department store Santa, creating a safe space for people to tell you what they want.
Imagine a world in which your team…
- Knew that their ideas and insights were valued
- Felt like you understood the positive effects of learning new things, and even failing
- Saw you walking your talk, demonstrating your core values through your actions
- Had regular time to work on, and learn from, self-directed creative projects
- Got rewarded in ways that were meaningful to them
- Knew they were being seen, heard and listened to
I imagine THAT team would be unbeatable, and that their loyalty to you would be priceless.
Some of these suggestions may seem soft or too woo-woo to work. But remember, most people just want to feel seen and valued. When they do, their defenses go down and their creativity, energy and commitment skyrockets.
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