Leadership

Dynamic Leaders know these attractive Secrets.

Dynamic Leaders know these attractive Secrets.

Leadership is a multifaceted endeavor. You can observe it for a lifetime and continually learn new perspectives and techniques for success. Leaders who aspire to excellence study the most successful leaders. Effective leadership is the goal over time, and we want to make it easy for others to want to follow us. I will share a specific attribute that was powerful in my professional development. This can help everyone. Let me start by telling you a story.

Many years ago, one of my mentors quietly said to me…” Dave, I love you, man.” Don’t you love it when a conversation starts that way? You know right away that something is coming. He continued. “You are a capable leader, but you naturally have a serious personality. You always look like your wheels are turning. You look very serious in meetings, in the hallway, at lunch, saying good morning, etc.”

As the conversation continued, he explained that I looked unapproachable while not intending to be. I think he said, “If you are not smiling, you look like you are frowning, and you are perhaps less approachable than you should be.”

But what he said next immediately got my attention. “Dave, this seriousness is probably hampering your effectiveness as a communicator.” I lacked self-awareness. I have learned that if I am unapproachable, I don’t get the chance to communicate the way I would like, and people are less likely to give me feedback without hesitation that I need to hear. I wanted to become a better leader.

How do I become more self-aware?

Let’s first look at what human nature tells us about our approachability. And then, we will dive into a simple way to become a more self-aware person. Let’s find out for ourselves how we may be perceived. Here are two experiments that may help you see yourself more clearly.

  • The Mirror Test. Stand in front of a mirror where you can see your face. Smile warmly into the mirror and then show no expression. Go back and forth this way for a bit. What impressions do you get? I noticed that ‘no expression’ looked more like I was worried or unhappy.
  • The Coffee Shop experiment. One of my mentors suggested this experiment. I go to the same small coffee shop every morning. But one morning, I sat where I could see people as they came into the shop. I would then look at those entering and see if I could catch their eye. If I did, I would smile. I would give no facial expression to the next person whose eye I caught. I alternated back and forth like this for a few people. What I saw was very interesting.

Those who saw my smile all returned a smile, and some held eyes for a moment. Some even spoke to me as they went by. However, those who met my ‘no expression’ face typically turned away quickly, not wanting to engage. After that exercise, I knew that my natural demeanor did not attract people easily. I needed to change.

How does leadership perception affect employee behavior?

Employees tend to interpret seriousness to some degree as worry. They want their leaders to appear calm. A constant serious demeanor can be a problematic distraction and cause misdirected conversations among employees. If you look worried, whether you intend to or not, others may think you are and ask each other if things are ‘ok’ with the business. They see your external persona as a reflection of the company. That is natural.

Persistent seriousness can make you seem less approachable. Authentic leadership reflects how competently we are able to connect and communicate with our employees on their terms and timing. Are they comfortable and open to talking with you?

I could not just change my serious nature, even if I wanted to. It is challenging to change your stripes. But my wife gave me a technique to soften my persona, and it worked. I allowed myself to be ‘serious Dave’ if I was alone in my office, but once I crossed the threshold of my door to leave it, I deliberately put on a warm smile. 

I slowed down and looked for natural opportunities to interact casually with those around me. In other words, I took the blinders off that the ‘serious Dave’ previously wore all day. 

There were more opportunities for small talk, hearing about employees’ families in just those few moments. 

I enjoyed the environment of our company better and I noticed, in time, that more people were apt to speak to me casually than previously. It did not go unnoticed by some of my managers either. I adopted daily mindfulness to my persona, and it helped me mask that natural weakness.

How to enhance effective communication at work?

You have heard of that warm and inviting corporate policy called “The Open Door Policy.” It is the one that tells your employees that they should feel comfortable coming into any leader’s office to discuss any topic, particularly if something is making them uncomfortable. Sounds very nice. Doesn’t it?

But are employees inclined to speak with senior leaders about stressful situations? It can be intimidating. Emotion becomes a barrier. They will think of every reason why they should avoid it. “My boss is so busy. I don’t want to bother them with this.” “What if I communicate poorly?” “What if doing this is held against me at some future point?” These are all rational thoughts that result in no communication.

What if you took a completely different approach to ensure that employees would be comfortable talking with you, particularly about potentially stressful situations? I will explain a very effective way to accomplish this that worked wonderfully for my executives and me. Here is what we did.

Once a week, I sought out one employee at their workstation and asked them to join me in my office for a conversation. I would usually do this at 3:00 on Thursday. Once in my office, I would calm their nerves and ask them to tell me something they thought I needed to know but perhaps didn’t know. Or tell me what changes might make their job easier.

The first few meetings did not produce much feedback. I had ‘ambushed’ them at their workstations, and they were typically a bit nervous. Since we only met for 15-30 minutes, we usually parted with a promise that if they thought of anything, they would come back and talk again. But here is what happened as a result.

Those employees working nearby to those I had spoken with were curious and would ask about the meeting. After a few weeks, word had gotten around that my meetings were nothing to fear, and they began to provide lots of good information that gave me a better ‘feel’ for my company. I found it funny that some would jokingly ask me why I had not yet invited them into my office. And then, of course, I would.

Several times, those invited told me about others to whom I should be talking. I learned more about who the employees trusted or felt was indispensable to our business operation. They identified our key players, and I deliberately got to know them. Eventually, my managers and I knew that we communicated better with our employees. We made better decisions by having more information more quickly. And I realized that I was turning my weakness into a strength.

To conclude: Leadership maturity evolves our ability to understand how best to communicate with others and adapt. Personal introspection will help Effective leadership starts with thoughtful communication. And perhaps the better way to open the door to sincere feedback is to initiate it with your employees first and often. 

Becoming more self-aware is vital to your leadership development. Give these ideas a try. Once your employees know you and are comfortable, they will approach you on their terms. It’s just one part of creating a safe and healthy business culture.

If you would like to talk more about this topic with me, click below to schedule a session. https://calendly.com/dave-kerford/

Also, join our Bulletproof Business Community. It is a forum for wisdom and insights from our C-suite and successful leaders who have formed or are forming what we call Bulletproof Businesses. As a first step to joining our community, click below to sign up for our newsletter. https://davekerford.com/subscribe/

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