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“Can’t lead from behind.”

Our previous posting was the first installment of this series on building an “engaged” workforce.  In that posting, we talked about vision, values, mission, and culture being foundational to a truly engaged workforce.  After all, we argued, employees need to know what the organization does, why it does what it does, what outcomes it hopes to achieve, and what code of conduct it expects everyone to follow.  Without that knowledge, employees can’t possibly make a commitment to the organization because they won’t have any idea what they’re committing to.

In this second installment of the series, we want to talk about the essential role effective leadership plays in building a committed, energized workforce.  Why?  Because no factor influences job satisfaction more (and therefore, commitment to the organization’s goals) than does effective leadership technique.  When managers are armed with the right leadership skills, the people under their care will strive to achieve the company’s objectives, because they want to, not because they have to.  And furthermore, when managers model effective leadership behaviors, those behaviors filter down to everyone in the organization and ultimately become part of the company’s culture.

For more on what effective leadership looks like, and how it is critical to building an engaged workforce, please read below.

“Can’t lead from behind.”
Get your workforce engaged! (102)

In a scene from the Civil War movie, “Gettysburg,” Confederate General Robert E. Lee is talking to his next-in-command, General James Longstreet.  Lee is chastising Longstreet for venturing too close to the front lines.  “We cannot afford to lose you, General” says Lee.  Longstreet shrugs and replies, “Can’t lead from behind.”

That’s true, isn’t it?  A real leader has to be out in front, modeling the behavior he or she expects others to emulate.  Do-what-I-say-not-as-I-do never was a great leadership technique, but it’s even less so now that we have smarter, better-informed employees than ever before.

So what are the behaviors leaders need to model?  Since thousands of books have been written on leadership, it would be absurd to try to cover the subject here in a few paragraphs.  So instead, let’s consider some bullet points of the top behaviors effective leaders need to exhibit.

•    Develop and nurture trust.  Honor your commitments.  Not sometimes, not most of the time . . . every time.  Not just the big, important commitments, but the little incidental ones too.  Not just to your own people, but to suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders as well.  Do what you say you’re going to do, and do it when you say you’re going to do it.

•    Develop and nurture trust II.  You will probably have to demonstrate to your people that you trust them before they will return the favor.  Look for authentic ways to show that you trust their skills, their judgment, and their commitment to the company’s goals.

•    Be transparent.  While that term may be over-used and trite, it’s probably still descriptive.  Be honest about your weaknesses.  When you make a mistake, own it.  When you don’t have a ready answer, have the courage to say, “I don’t know.”

•    Be a coach, not a critic.  Make it your job to help the people in your care to be successful.  Using a whip and a chair is old school and not particularly effective.

•    Treat everyone with dignity and respect.  Not just the people above you on the org chart . . . everyone.  Think the Golden Rule.

•    Be a good communicator.  Adopt the “Doctrine of No Surprises.”  Tell your people what’s going on, completely, honestly, and frequently.  Make sure they are not blindsided by events you saw coming but they didn’t.

•    Be a good listener.  Good communication is a 2-way street.  Make sure your people know that you want to hear their thoughts, ideas, and opinions.  You won’t always agree with them, but they need to know their thoughts have been heard and given honest consideration.

As we’ve said, leadership is a very broad topic . . . way too broad to be treated here in more than a very cursory fashion.  Still, if you commit to really mastering the behaviors we’ve bullet pointed here, can you take your place as one of history’s great leaders?  Maybe not.  But you’ll be pretty damn good, and you’ll make a huge contribution toward a fully engaged workforce.

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