Find me a company where people love their work, and I’ll show you those same people willingly and enthusiastically following their leaders to achieve excellence.
The correlation is simple: Trusted, human-centered leaders (translation: they lead without fear) equal happy and engaged employees.
When you have happy and engaged employees, the research overwhelmingly asserts that discretionary effort will be released up, down, and across the lines. This is good for business.
So, if you’re to identify future leaders to move your company forward, do you know what to look for?
I’ve interviewed some of the world’s most inspiring executives and entrepreneurs to dig for the best examples of what a truly human leader does–day in, day out. Let’s take a look.
1. Don’t be a lone ranger.
Jon Stein is the CEO of Betterment, an automated financial adviser that manages $15 billion in assets, the most of all robo-advisers. What is Stein’s personal leadership philosophy?
“When it comes to leadership, you don’t have to go at it alone. You can lean on others to help turn your ideas into successes. When you’re leading a company, you’re going to need a great team of really smart people to help you take a concept and turn it into a business success.”
2. Be radically transparent.
If I asked 100 leaders to stand up in a room and began shouting out traits to qualify their leadership, transparency would cause the majority to sit back down. Not so with Shane Dunn, chief development officer of Minneapolis-based Pedal Pub, a business spearheading the bike tavern experience with over 40 licensed locations and a dozen franchises open (and counting).
I asked Dunn what transparency means to him: “Being open and candid about all aspects of the business with our teams. We don’t hide numbers, or our intent on action. We want everyone to understand our value metrics, and feel it’s important for them to see the good and the bad, as it helps everyone to formulate plans for direction based off mutual understanding, not just a figure head saying march!”
3. Practice active listening to solve problems.
Inger Ellen Nicolaisen, founder of Nikita Hair, came from humble beginnings before establishing herself as a self-made multimillionaire entrepreneur. Nicolaisen’s father was an alcoholic, and, at the young age of 15, she became a mother. She battled homelessness with her daughter and worked hard to make ends meet. It was these experiences from her young adult life that shaped her and forced her to develop the skills she needed to succeed in the business world.
From sweeping floors at a hair salon to deciding to open her own, Nicolaisen grew her concept quickly, and Nikita Hair has grown into one of the most profitable hair salon chains in the world, with over 150 franchise locations.
To Nicolaisen, leadership and listening go hand-in-hand. But not just listening for the sake of listening. Nicolaisen explains:
Early on, I learned that “people don’t care how much you know until they see how much you care.” As leaders, we need to show that we care and we need to practice active listening. It’s not always just the words–there is so much more to it. Body language, tone of voice, and so on.
At one point, I remember I put up a sign in my office with a big question mark. I wanted to show my team members that I truly consider and appreciate their opinions and input on issues and challenges. With this, we created an organization driven by solutions, not problems. That question mark made way for part of our leadership philosophy: “We always seek solutions! Every problem is always delivered with at least two suggestions for good solutions!”
4. Make the workplace feel inclusive for all.
At Ultimate Software, ranked No. 3 on Fortune magazine’s 2018 list of “the 100 Best Companies to Work For,” their people come first.
Vivian Maza, chief people officer at Ultimate Software, shared the company’s unwavering commitment to making sure everyone feels safe, accepted for their real selves, and included in all aspects of life at Ultimate:
Over the years, as we assessed our benefits offerings, it was important to me that we provide the same benefits coverage for married same-sex couples as for married heterosexual couples, to truly make our workplace feel inclusive. I also thought it was important to broaden our health care benefits to cover expensive IVF coverage and transgender-reassignment surgeries, in addition to previously instituting coverages for adopting children, extending PTO for fathers, and adding a variety of other benefits to create an environment where everyone could feel included and cared for at work and away from the office.
5. Connect the employee to the customer on a deeper, personal level.
Back at robo-adviser Betterment, Stein told me they’ve build an environment that infuses the customer into the company and connects them to employees in more ways than one. Here’s Stein: “As our company grows, we encourage employees, at all levels, to have conversations with customers to spur new ideas about ways to improve our platform. When we receive customer feedback, we find ways to integrate solutions directly into our product roadmap. Today, every employee at Betterment is required to work the customer service phone lines for a day; this is so everyone can value the customer we create products for on a deeper level and better meet their needs.”
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