Growth and our overall influence are often pursuits many leaders naturally prioritize. But as we continue to move forward with our goals and aspirations, there is often one key component the majority of leaders easily overlook: the people
we are leading.
To top it off, we are lodged in a culture predominantly focused on self: self-esteem, self-help, self-investment, self-efficacy. So, it comes as no big surprise this is a common, forgotten key factor in effective leadership.
Yet, arguably the most celebrated influencers of our time were people-centric leaders. The likes of Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, and Ronald Reagan are just a few inspiring leaders who were remembered, not just for the great accomplishments they led people to, but for how they led people. Over time, those who have proven to achieve the most, be remembered the most and have most dramatically helped shift and change culture are leaders who have been people-centered.
Here are 7 ways to be a more people-centric leader:
- Get out of your office. It was said that in 1861, the first year of the Civil War, President Lincoln spent more time out of the White House than he ever did in it. It is also believed he met with every single early enlisted Union soldier serving within the war. Your first step — get out of your office and be with your people. Have a meal or coffee. Be a part of your office culture. Get to know your people.
- Don’t crowd the stage. Leaders, in particular, can give off the stigma that in order to be effective and leading they need to always be the ones doing the talking or assume they always have to have every answer. But this isn’t the case. If you want your people to help shape and move your organization forward, give your people a voice. Not only will this elevate your culture, but as proposed in his book "Exit, Voice and Loyalty," Albert Hirschman suggests that simply giving your team a voice greatly impacts employee retention. Don’t always dictate the conversation and let their voices be heard.
- Follow through. Consistency in character and following through on your word are essential to being a leader that people are willing to follow. Be the type of leader your people can depend on and trust.
- Listen, actively. When you do give your people a voice, listen, intently. Author Ken Blanchard, wrote, “Great leaders realize their number one customer is their people.” Applying this to your leadership can drastically impact how you value and converse with your team. What your employees are saying should always matter.
- Ask questions. When we’re really listening, we’re engaged and compelled to ask questions. Often your team won’t necessarily share their opinions unless they're asked. Rather than assume they will be outspoken with a thought, provoke and stir the conversation with thoughtful and intentional questions.
- Be known. Speechwriter for President Reagan, Peggy Noonan, once said, “Those who worked for Reagan knew him even when he wasn’t in the room.” Great leaders allow themselves to be known, so their people can recognize what they want, even when they haven’t spoken with them.
- Be vulnerable. If you want to help others grow, you must be a growing person. If you want to lead change, you must recognize the first person who needs to change is yourself. When we are vulnerable and honest, ears perk up. In order to create a culture of clear communication, you must lead here as well.
If we want to lead effectively, we must stop putting all of our emphasis on numbers and goals, but rather the individuals who are making it all happen. Individuals who know how to invest, listen and create a culture of trust are the kind of leaders people want to follow.
Dr. Kent Ingle serves as the President of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, and is the author of “Framework Leadership.” A champion of innovative educational design, Ingle is the president of one of the fastest growing private universities in the nation. As president, Ingle founded the American Center for Political Leadership at the university and is also a founding member of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. Before becoming Southeastern’s president in 2011, Ingle held leadership positions in higher education and the nonprofit sector in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle. Ingle is the author of several leadership books and the creator of the Framework Leadership podcast. He currently serves on the board of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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