Stop Trying to Influence Your Team. Focus on This Leadership Skill Instead.
If you want to influence your team, let go of your ego. Here are four ways to lead with more compassion.
I had a supervisor long ago who loved the sound of his own voice. He went into long, impassioned tirades about the company's values, about what he expected from us, and more importantly, all the ways we could improve how we worked.
In his mind, he was a charismatic leader, guiding us toward the right path. Needless to say, we weren't all that impressed. Instead of being inspired, we were put off by what seemed like self-serving motives. Instead of being motivated to action, we silently withdrew (the opposite of what he surely intended).
What I'm about to say might seem contradictory, but the first rule when it comes to improving your ability to influence others is removing this sole desire from yourself. What this means is that seeking to influence for the sake of influencing will get you nowhere.
As world-renowned researcher and author Brené Brown notes: "It turns out that trust is in fact earned in the smallest of moments. It is earned not through heroic deeds, or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection."
Why leaders should focus on transformation
In their illuminating story for Harvard Business Review, researchers Ben Laker and Charmi Patel discovered that leaders who lacked a personal connection with their employees found it difficult to affect people's behavior over time. "At least without coming off as overbearing and causing their teams (and themselves) stress," the co-authors write.
Instead, they advocate for something they call Transformational Influence, which is rooted in empathy — in other words, leading "through encouragement, support, and going above and beyond the call of duty."
Similarly, the vice president at Western Union, Karen Penny, suggests leaders take a compassionate approach. "When things are not going well, people need to see how you cope and present your vulnerability," she explains. "It's vital to show that you are human."
I couldn't agree more. I've been CEO of my company, Jotform, for over 15 years. We've grown from a small team to more than 300 employees, and never have I understood this need to lead with empathy more than the current moment we're living.
It's now been more than a year and a half since the Covid-19 crisis began, yet we're still grappling with uncertainty and loss, fear and insecurity. People have dealt with innumerable struggles, and it's not something that will go away anytime soon — all the more reason to practice our humanity.
My point is: We can't reach people — much less connect with them — when we're only driven by our bottom line. Here are four ways to lead with compassion.
Related: The Problems With Servant Leadership
1. Prioritize active listening over "influencing"
In her revolutionary book Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, Brené Brown accurately distills this core quality: "A brave leader is someone who says I see you. I hear you. I don't have all the answers, but I'm going to keep listening and asking questions."
When I began my business, I vowed to not make the same mistakes as past supervisors who loved the sound of their own voice. This was tricky at first, because as leaders, we have this erroneous belief that we must have all the answers in order for others to look up to us. But this couldn't be further from the truth.
Listening is showing care — but it's also about acting upon the input received. "To be liked and respected by everyone," write HBR co-authors Laker and Patel, "make sure you're putting aside your biases, being consistent with your communication, and acting on what you hear."
2. Spend time getting to know your team
One of the biggest mistakes my long-ago supervisor made was going into lengthy "motivational" speeches without first having earned our trust. But strengthening interpersonal connections consists in building rapport with the people who work for us. Try taking the time to ask team members the following: What are some areas you feel need improving? What are things you didn't like from past managers/leaders?
According to Entrepreneur contributor Andre Lavoie, building foundational trust involves giving every employee the opportunity to speak up and ask questions. "The ultimate goal is transparency," he writes, "where everyone can see what actions are being performed and understand why."
3. Foster an attitude of appreciation
Perhaps the biggest thing I recall from my supervisor all those years ago was the fact that we were never given thanks for all our efforts. "The simple act of appreciating your team members, whether through a few words of praise at the end of a tough week or recognizing their critical role in a recent project, can make a big difference in their motivation," write researchers Laker and Patel.
Taking just a few minutes each day to tell your employees that you value their contributions can go a long way in establishing trust and rapport.
4. Make self-awareness your end-goal
"Influencing" our team seems like a lofty goal. Who doesn't want to be one of those inspiring leaders with grand ideas?
But here's the thing: That shouldn't be our objective. As Brown wisely explains: "We desperately need more leaders who are committed to courageous, wholehearted leadership and who are self-aware enough to lead from their hearts, rather than unevolved leaders who lead from hurt and fear."
At the end of the day, setting the right example and focusing on our own personal growth and transformation is what ultimately makes us worthy of following.
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