What makes a great leader? This hotly debated question has everyone weighing in, and your answer might reveal a lot about your leadership approach.
People have studied different leadership traits and determined which are effective and which can have damaging repercussions. Such studies neatly tie a bow around each style and assign it a label. I’ve found that autocratic leaders, for example, are usually known for their vision, strategy and decision-making, but they rarely take input from other team members. In contrast, laissez-faire (or hands-off) leaders are persistent delegators who give little supervision. And transformational leaders are consistently focused on pushing themselves and their employees toward their goal. You get the point.
However, I believe those studies often overlook that leadership is fluid. Leaders commonly identify with different styles and borrow from different approaches to achieve certain goals. You might have been one kind of leader at the beginning of your career but crossed over to a new approach as you gained more experience. Such fluency defies labels and makes each person’s leadership style as unique as a fingerprint.
But let’s go back to the original question: What makes a great leader? There are many answers to this question, but the only one that should matter is one that prioritizes your employees.
Being people-focused is being results-driven.
Many leaders measure their value based on how much they contribute to their company’s bottom line. When these managers are asked how they lead, they tend to give goal-oriented answers, such as, “I lead our company’s sales initiatives.”
I believe such mindsets illustrate how today’s business landscape views success: Effective leadership produces tangible results. But the converse is not necessarily true. Tangible results do not mean that leadership is effective. All too often, perspectives that focus primarily on results ignore other indicators of leadership, both effective and ineffective.
I understand results-oriented perspectives. I’m the president and CEO of a company in the call center solutions and commercial/consumer receivables industries, so I know how important numbers are. But they aren’t everything. You might oversee a department whose impact is critical on your company’s success, but if you see percentages and profit over your employees, you’re missing the point. You want results, but your team drives those results. Start with your people.
People leave bosses, not companies.
The numbers don’t lie: Poor leadership is expensive. Last year, employees quit their jobs at the fastest rate ever recorded. Although turnover occurs for a variety of reasons, employees frequently leave companies because of their managers. If leaders aren’t creating opportunities for growth, offering employees adequate pay, seeing if they’re satisfied and more, they can play a big role in an employee’s decision to leave. Once a staff member feels unsupported or unappreciated, he or she could be halfway out the door.
From my perspective, no perks or salary increase can overcome the emotional disconnect caused by poor leadership. Just how costly is this employee turnover? Businesses lose upwards of $1 trillion every year because of voluntary turnover alone, according to Gallup. Moreover, disengaged employees who don’t quit can become complacent at work and frequently absent, thereby undermining productivity and results. When you translate absenteeism and lower productivity into dollars, it can cost you thousands for every day employees are not there or for every mistake they make.
Put employees first.
Being a leader isn’t easy. You must make decisions that won’t make everyone happy. You must also have difficult conversations to hold your team members accountable. Unpopular decisions and hard discussions are part of the job. But when you place your employees at the forefront of everything you do, you establish a company culture in which such hardships cultivate a positive environment, rather than erect barriers between you and your team.
Peter Drucker, often considered the father of modern management, is known to have said that 60% of leadership issues stem from faulty communication. People-first managers consistently communicate with their team members. Transparency and openness let employees know they are seen, heard, appreciated and valued.
But a leader’s decisions and words are just one half of communication. The other half requires a good listener.
Listening doesn’t mean you must always agree with your employees or implement their ideas. It simply requires hearing them. A 2017 study by Salesforce, “The Impact of Equality and Values Driven Business,” revealed that employees who feel heard by their employers are 4.6 times more likely to produce their best work.
An effective working environment doesn’t come easy. It takes time and dedication to cultivate a culture that breeds happy, productive employees. And leadership isn’t a solo effort. Your value is determined not merely by what you bring to the department but also by the contributions of your entire team.
Show your employees you’re on their side. It matters.
This article was originally posted on Forbes.com