A new year’s resolution we often hear from our clients in management roles is that they would like to become better leaders. And that’s a good thing, because the working environment is shaped by the behaviors that leaders have with their team and with each other. The question is: What behavioral changes will have the biggest impact?
Great Place to Work partnered with Harvard, Duke and MIT to study the relationship between specific leadership behaviors and the sentiment they create in employees. These sentiments either drive employees to give extra effort and find creative ways to do more with less, or conversely, to do the bare minimum effort required to get paid.
We found that one of the most impactful behaviors that result in a positive employee sentiment—thereby leading to employees giving extra on the job—is involving people in important decisions that affect them.
This doesn’t mean that leaders need to approach everyone in the organization for their input on strategic decisions (though some organizations are doing this!). What it means is that if you manage people, the way you respond to your employees when they come up with a suggestion of how to perform a certain task differently, or have an idea on to solve a challenge, drives their overall sentiment and experience.
Think about the motivation you had when you completed your first tasks in a new job. Typically, everyone adds more than what was requested to prove their value in a new situation. It is the manager’s response what will reinforce or inhibit this behavior. “Old-school” managers were raised to think that the boss should “know it all.” But actually, our research shows that a trustworthy leader is vulnerable enough to accept that he/she doesn’t know it all, and trusts their team to be the experts in their jobs.
If you want to improve in this fundamental area, you can start with a simple reflection: How often do your people surprise you by delivering work that goes above and beyond what you have asked, and how often do they deliver just what you asked for—or even something that is incomplete? What you experience more often from your team is a good indication of how they experience your response to their suggestions and ideas, and also of your ability to communicate expectations clearly.
Certainly, individual levels of performance and internal motivation do matter. However, your ability to include their ideas consistently can further unleash their potential and motivation.
This one behavior can drive a tremendous improvement in your team morale and take you out of daily operational issues. As you build confidence in your team to solve challenges and reduce their dependence on you when they face situations beyond repeatable processes, you will be freed up to do strategic thinking and planning. You can shift your thinking to the future, since your team is effectively taking care of the present. And, creative leaders who focus their time on strategic thinking tend to be more innovative.
If you could choose just one action to be a better manager, the way you seek and respond to your people’s ideas and suggestions can take you a long way. It is much more impactful than hosting pizza parties, or bringing cupcakes, or even paying a bonus. While bonuses (and cupcakes!) are great rewards, they do not necessarily move the needle. Unfortunately, they are the most frequent actions I hear being implemented by managers to improve their leadership. Typically, they end up feeling disappointed when they see their leadership scores haven’t progressed. The truth is, these types of rewards just don’t create a sense of accomplishment and pride in the same way as being empowered to bring your best ideas to the table.
These “moments of truth” can help you to create a great working environment. Authentically seeking and listening to the ideas of your team can be a great start to improving yourself as a leader in 2018.
Lorena Martinez is a New York-based Consultant at Great Place to Work.