3 Things Great Leaders Do Every Day
I certainly aspire to be a leader that others look up to – I want to influence people at a high level. One of the ways I work toward that goal is to read and study “Great” leaders from around the world and throughout time. As I was running yesterday, I thought about a few things I had realized are common traits in “Great” leaders. We can all learn from great leaders and the three things they do each day – I know I can.
1) Connect to people
A few years ago, when I was still working in the corporate world, I had several team members at different locations all over the hospital, in different offices and even on different floors. Yet the first item on my list each day was to stop by each person’s office and 1) Say good morning and see how they were; and 2) Ask what I could do for them that day. It certainly didn’t solve all the problems our team would face that day, but it did let them know that they were important and valued as a person and as a team member. I wish I could say I did this right from the start but it took me almost a year to figure this out. When I did, it was incredible how the team started coming together.
If we look at all of the “Great” leaders from history, their ability to connect with people was crucial to their success. Martin Luther King Jr. connected to the people before he asked them to cross that bridge in Selma. Truett Cathy connected to the people who would come to eat at The Dwarf House – and they wanted to come back. Abraham Lincoln connected to the people around him, the people who fought for him, and the people who were willing to die for him, and they supported him as he led the country through a critical time in history.
One of the things great leaders do every day is to help the other people around them feel valued.
It’s a leader’s job to lift up other people around them and help them feel inspired and motivated. In order to do this, the leader must be intentional about reaching out and making that personal connection.
2) Listen First
It “says easy, and does hard” meaning it is so very easy to say that we need to listen, but it is so difficult to do. Larry King said, “Nothing I say today will teach me anything.” It seems that we feel pressure to make sure we are heard so we jump into responding without always truly listening to the other person but we can’t learn from the things we say. I caught myself doing it this morning – I was getting ready to teach my 5:30am group fitness class and as usual, I was there early to talk to the members as they arrive and help them get set up. One member, whom I will call “Jane”, and I were talking about sugar and how she was trying to eliminate it from her diet and I mentioned, “I have learned to enjoy coffee without sugar.” Jane shared, “I don’t add sugar to coffee but I do add whole milk and I want to switch to skim milk and then to black coffee.” Before she even finished talking however, I couldn’t wait to tell her how I used almond milk in my coffee instead of regular milk, which I thought was great substitute. The point here isn’t how I take my coffee – the point is I stopped listening to HER and starting thinking about my response to her even before she was done talking. Ugh! Mentally, I slapped my forehead and brought my attention back to her and the conversation re-centered where it should have been – on what she had to say.
“Nothing I say today will teach me anything.” ~Larry King
Leaders should always listen first. All too often our natural inclination is to begin thinking about a response even while the other person is still talking. To be more effective as a leader, make sure that you are truly listening to others. Make a point to stop what you are doing and face them – look at them while they are speaking and give them your full attention. They deserve it. I read an interesting statistic – the words we say accounts for only 7% of communication. That means 93% of communication is made of other components. Resist the urge to “multitask” and focus on what you are hearing – not just the words that are being said but the tone, the voice, the body language, and the facial expressions. Practice this at every opportunity – you can never listen too deeply. Then, when you are certain that you have received the message the other person wanted to communicate, you can respond appropriately.
3) Put Other’s Needs First
I well remember the week of July 4, 2007. That week, I was in between courses at the community college and it had been a long Spring and Early Summer of working 60 plus hour weeks and taking classes at night. I had planned for many months to take the entire week off of work, trusting my team would carry on well without me. As the office manager of a busy physician practice, I was looking forward to taking some time off from the stress and pressure. One of the other team members approached me around the middle of June, a few weeks before my vacation and asked if she could also take some time off the week of July 4. My “Yes” response was instant and automatic – no one else had requested to be off so the office would still be staffed well. We had one of those “unwritten policies” where no more than two people could be off at one time due to the patient load and the need to support several physicians in the office. That’s why I had put my request in for the week off several months in advance – to make sure I had it approved.
You can imagine my excitement on Friday, the week before my vacation. Practically dancing around while I completed a few things that had to be done before I left and counting down the hours…. and then suddenly, I had a choice to make.
Nearly in tears, one of the other ladies came to my office and sat down. She had just received a call no woman wants to receive – her doctor had called with an abnormal mammogram result and wanted to immediately run some more tests and a biopsy – next week, as soon as possible. They could squeeze her in on Wednesday before the holiday if she could get off. In shock, she was almost in tears just thinking about going all weekend with that dread hanging over her. Then it hit us both at the same time – we already had two people scheduled to be off next week and the office couldn’t run with three people off. I made the right decision and I consider it one of the better leadership decisions I made during my years there. And, as it turned out, she got a good report back from the doctor!
It meant coming in to work right in the middle of my ten day vacation so she could be off. However, if you accept a leadership role (formal or not), you should have already made the decision to put your team’s needs ahead of your own.
Servant leadership is not a new concept, but it’s a timeless one. We see examples of leaders serving others first throughout history. Those are the truly great leaders who inspire us to do and be more. A great leader must make the choice to put other people’s needs in front of his or her own. Sometimes it is easy – we enjoy giving up something to help someone else, and it has its own intrinsic rewards. But, sometimes it’s not easy and it’s just as important to honor our dedication to being a servant leader when it’s NOT easy and when the sacrifice truly does cost us something.