People often leave companies because of the failure of their bosses. This is why many organisations have consciously invested in leadership development. That’s because more effective leaders drive business results and can reduce the attrition of key talent.
But retaining high-performing employees doesn’t happen just because their bosses attended some training programme. A deeply rooted leader creates a bond that makes employees not only stay but also eager to participate in their boss’s leadership. As a performance coach for global business leaders, I have observed how some leaders are able to motivate their teams in good times and bad.
These leaders guide people to practise and develop their art through disciplined personal habits, not mastery of a craft or fitness hobby.
Here are four unique habits that strong leaders intentionally practise and that make people really want to follow them, no matter what challenges they face:
THEY PICTURE A CRITICAL FIGURE, THEY ARE NOT AFRAID TO HEAR IT
Most managers know that getting feedback is critical to finding blind spots. However, not everyone is used to asking for feedback. And many who do are still doing it wrong. Some managers say all the textbook “correct” things, like “I want you to be honest and tell me when I’m doing something wrong.” But as soon as the employee accepts the offer, he has a hard time processing it.
I once coached a vice president of a Fortune 100 company who shouted to his team with pride and confidence, “The best teams are built on mutual trust and growth, so I expect you to let me know when I’m not doing a good job. and how to be better.” .”
However, when I interviewed members of his team as part of his performance review, they shared how difficult it was to give him constructive feedback because he was so defensive and dismissive of their input. Over time, his colleagues simply refused to give him their opinion. And he soon discovered that his request for feedback had the exact opposite effect on motivation. Through training, he realised that he had to find a way to restore their trust. First, he publicly admitted without warning that he had placed an unfair burden on them to help him see his blind spots. He apologized and asked for a restart so he could be more open with feedback and be honest with others.
My client agreed that he does not always have to agree with others, it is his responsibility to control his emotions and have the maturity to handle criticism. And while it took time for people to come around, his team deeply appreciated his genuine admission of failure. In fact, it encouraged them to be more honest, but also to think about how they could grow with his suggestions. They shock on the big stage, but are conscious in private.
We often admire leaders for their charisma and influence. But respecting an announcer’s style of speaking or their stories in a corporate town hall is not enough to make people really want to work for them.
Leaders who can engage audiences on a large scale can certainly have a positive impact, but those who really get results are those who balance bravado with humility and quiet confidence. Leaders with this confidence do not attract people because they are perfect; conversely, quietly confident leaders are admired because they know they are imperfect and are completely safe about it.
I once worked with the head of a multi-billion dollar business division in a global company whose high position in the corporate hierarchy made him inaccessible to most members of the organization. Most employees have only experienced him through town halls, company-wide broadcasts, and other media-oriented activities.
But he felt that this inaccessibility was at odds with his management philosophy. He didn’t think it was right to stay away from supporting those who did the heavy lifting for the company in such a stratified space.
So he volunteered his time to lead people several floors down in the organization. And he organized a monthly roundtable of randomly selected employees and managers to meet with him to answer questions and share their experiences. In these sessions, he can share more of his failures than his successes, encouraging humor and emphasizing their common humanity rather than hierarchy. Attendees consistently reported feeling surprisingly comfortable in his presence, and year after year, he scored highly in employee surveys and was a top talent attractor.
Many senior leaders struggle with insecurity and hesitate to show too much vulnerability for fear of being perceived as weak. But my client’s calm confidence and ease with his strengths and weaknesses created a deep sense of security around him.
THEY DON’T PLAY FAVOURITES AND YOU ARE ACTIVELY FEEDING YOUR OWN PREJUDICES
A manager’s job is to achieve results through other people. But human nature is complex and unpredictable. As a result, some leaders rely too much on those they like and who like them.
It is natural for managers to have favourites among their team. But personal biases can lead them to overestimate the effectiveness of some employees while underestimating the potential of those outside their circle. In my experience, the leaders who don’t fall into this trap are the ones who are more
successful in the long run. Leaders who do not play favourites are better equipped to face future challenges because they attract and develop a wider pool of people with hidden strengths. Furthermore, when these leaders understand their own biases, they see themselves as the most trustworthy and worthy of the respect of all their employees.
I saw this dynamic up close when I supervised a new CFO who took over a team where his predecessor had clearly divided the group into favourites and outsiders. The ex-CFO’s former favourites were keen on his good graces, and former outsiders hoped he would evoke righteous behaviour on sight. Ironically, because he wanted to remove the stigma of favouritism from the past, he began to develop his own prejudices. He believed that the good graces of his predecessors were earned, and felt a kinship with those outside his circle.
The new CFO decided to do an objective assessment of ability and potential, which revealed that not all past favourites were bad actors and not all outsiders were flawed. Instead of worrying about favourites and underdogs, he focused on bringing everyone back into a cohesive, inclusive space and guiding them towards general criteria for team performance.
For a while, he led the team in a much different way than his predecessors. His team consisted of managers and employees who never felt treated differently by their boss, which encouraged them to support his vision even more.
They are actively looking for opportunities to help great people.
While many employees follow their leader out of duty, those who are willing to “Go to the moon and back” for someone experience something quite profound with their boss.
They just don’t work for them; they believe in them. And they are convinced that their boss also believes in them. This belief doesn’t come from simple platitudes in thank-you emails or random gift cards from your boss. It shows when they see their leader caring for others. They believe that their boss is even happy to make them more successful. As a leader, you may not realise how much power you have to increase the visibility and success of others behind your back. Instead of competing with your leaders, recognise that there is an opportunity to develop a deeper willingness among them to support your vision, which ultimately promotes your own recognition and ability to succeed.
Be proactive in finding ways to help the most talented people expand their influence and network. Consider being more than just a mentor and boss—be a committed sponsor of their future.
Most managers can afford more than the bare minimum when it comes to evaluating talent that deserves recognition and access. Offer something that truly elevates others. When your employees feel that you are willing to do whatever it takes to help them succeed in the future, you become a leader that people really want to follow.
Many organisations invest in developing better leaders to retain talented employees and motivate them to perform at their best. This is a step in the right direction. But leaders who naturally draw motivation from people practise these four habits with discipline. They know that if they really want solid and unwavering support, they have to prove themselves worthy of following.
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