An old friend called me yesterday. We hadn't spoken in a while, and when I asked him about his job, he said, “I can’t believe the idiots I have to put up with at the office.”
“Well," I responded without too much thought, "you can either put up with all of the extra headaches that come with taking a leadership role, so that you can fire the idiots, or accept the leadership of someone else in your work life and the people they surround you with.”
To be honest, the significance of what I said didn’t sink in at the time. But, after the call, I realized there was a deeper truth to my response: everyone else’s job always looks easier and less stressful until you walk a mile in their shoes.
Here are three ways to empathize as a leader and develop success within your company and employees.
1. Develop the heart of a servant.
As a leader, this is incredibly important to understand. Your job is to step into everyone’s shoes and find ways to make the path less treacherous, stressful and demoralizing. A leader is in service to those around them; the best ones serve others so consistently that their team takes it for granted.
Serving your team’s needs, without losing your status as boss, is a balancing act. The key counter-balance to being a servant is the projection of confidence. Well-established confidence in one’s self is the perfect pairing for the heart of a servant. But, how can a leader project confidence, even when they’re having a bad day?
2. Physical fitness and presence are important.
I’ve heard some of my colleagues lament the fact that “young and energetic” is sometimes outweighing experience when opportunities come up to climb the corporate ladder. Balancing the workplace generation gap is a challenge, and when it comes time for a promotion, the image of the company can hang in the balance.
There’s one thing every entrepreneur and corporate leader can do to negate the advantages of youthful competitors, though: stay fit! Thanks to the plethora of knowledge the human race has collected on health and wellness, it’s possible to look fit and trim at any age. More than youth, physical fitness and presence is really what is valued by a company worried about the image of their team to the outside world. Don’t let a date on a birth certificate define you.
3. Overprepare in private.
There are few things more frustrating than working for a leader that has little grasp of the facts surrounding a decision. A great leader takes the counsel of his team, but has invested the time and energy to educate themselves on the situation as well. Counsel should be centered around providing a different perspective, instead of a start-to-finish education on the problem.
Confident leaders serve their team best by being well-informed, current and aggressively prepared. Robert Pagliarini shared some insights on productive meetings in this CBS Money Watch article. Spoiler alert: Preparation is a key component to experiencing a favorable outcome. If you understand what you want, and you've done the research to provide a foundation of facts, you can better nudge the conversation in a direction that leads to a favorable outcome.
The best salespeople, team leaders and negotiators don’t worry about who does the most talking -- they worry about the direction of the conversation. After all, if the conversation is headed in a direction that leads to your desired outcome, does it really matter who does the talking?
A confident leader understands the value of preparation and uses their depth of knowledge to steer the conversation. In the end, the participants feel ownership in the final decision, even if it was different from their original intention.
Physical presence, preparation and the heart of a servant combine to project non-threatening confidence.
Tony Robbins once said, “People are rewarded in public for what they practice for years in private,” and it's true. Great leaders commit to being amazing long before the moment where their confident leadership is needed. They spend long hours in the gym, in the office studying and developing the habit of serving those around them. The confidence they project in the moment is the result of hard work in private.