A review of the movie Steve Jobs made the argument that the Apple founder’s unpleasantness was worth it due to how much his efforts have changed the world. It is a typical premise advanced by those who wish to bolster the legacy of so-called corporate icons. This notion is that the mean-spirited, demeaning attitude of an iconic leader is tolerated because he or she is a “genius,” who produces great results. I have never bought into this argument, based on the belief that people should treat each other civilly and with respect, no matter one’s grand vision, outstanding results, or position. But it also is not accurate. Most Americans believe that a great leader is a win at all costs, aggressive tyrant, who will inspire you to be your most productive self. However, research indicates that a more low-key, thoughtful leader will produce the same, if not better, results. My argument is that as great as the results that unpleasant, tyrannical bosses produce, they may have been even better, if he or she didn’t alienate so many talented and caring people. So, if you are seeking to hone your leadership skills, here are some tips to improve your outcomes:
1) Love people not things – despite what some industry gurus believe, technology can only take you so far. Ultimately it is people that impact change. So, it is critical to be mindful of your staff and consider their needs for success. While outcomes are certainly important, don’t lose sight of the process to get there. Be careful to not let short-term goals (e.g. sales target, etc.), override longer term objectives (e.g. staff retention and consistent productivity).
2) Lead by example, to an extent – if you are a leader, you should be willing to do some of the things your employees do, get your hands dirty, in essence. No task should be beneath you. However, you should not expect the same from your team members. That is, even if you are willing to work 18-hour days, you should not expect or penalize employees who don’t. Set realistic expectations and help people manage them.
3) Expect greatness not perfection – create an environment where true risk-taking is encouraged not punished. Allow people to make and learn from mistakes. That is how creativity is nurtured and supported.
4) Don’t serially catastrophize – Not every issue should be a fire drill. Human are not meant to be on hyper alert 24/7. It is not healthy, nor does it breed productivity. Make sure to prioritize goals, and to identify critical situations accurately. If your team understands the nature of a true emergency, they will be willing to pitch in when they arise on those rare occasions. But if everything seems to be an emergency, they may have crisis fatigue, and be less willing to contribute, or do so begrudgingly.
5) Provide recognition and appreciation– while you may not always be able to give hefty raises or promotions, small tokens of appreciation go a long way to boost morale. A word of thanks during a meeting, or if allowed, a staff outing, are simple ways to acknowledge the efforts of your employees. Recognition programs may also help with employee engagement.
By taking a people-centered approach to leadership, you will ensure better outcomes and a more engaged team.