Leaders, Watch Your Wake
As a leader of a team or organization, you’ve got countless decisions to make, endless meetings to attend, and a daily deluge of emails to keep up with. So, if you forget to say good morning or fail to reply to an email, it’s no big deal, right?
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
When you’re a leader, what you say (or don’t say) and what you do (or don’t do) can dramatically impact how the people around you think, feel, and work. I call this the “wake” of leadership. Leaders who aren’t tuned in to what and how they communicate can unwittingly damage the team. Folks who get caught in a frothy, turbulent wake feel unappreciated, undervalued, and uninspired.
Liz Wiseman, the author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, describes this phenomenon as “accidental diminishing.” Usually without meaning to, “Diminishers” tend to criticize or kill ideas. They undermine the efforts and sap the energy of their coworkers. (I recently coached a brilliant, highly discerning Diminisher whose “Swiss cheese” approach to communication meant he only talked about the “holes” and not the “cheese.” No surprise, his coworkers were discouraged and demoralized.)
In contrast, “Multipliers” inspire employees to stretch themselves and take risks, which drives innovation and organizational growth. I know first-hand the joy of working with a Multiplier because years ago, I was lucky enough to partner with someone who believed in me even more than I believed in myself. That confidence boost enabled me to push boundaries and explore new ways of thinking. I always knew she had my back. Bottom line? When someone’s confident about your abilities, you feel more competent as a result.
In The Art of Possibility, Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander write that giving people an “A” based purely on their potential is a powerful tool for transformation. At Live Bright Now, I encourage my clients to believe in the “yet” of people. Showing others that you recognize the amazing things they’ve yet to do helps bring that potential to life.
Here are five practical tips for lifting up your coworkers and employees and creating as little “wake” as possible.
- Embrace your role. You may see yourself as a common Joe or Jo who can’t keep track of the car keys, but at work, you’re a respected leader whose words and actions carry a lot of weight. Let this vision of yourself guide your behavior.
- Be courteous. Saying “please” and “thank you,” greeting people in the office or when you join a video call, making eye contact, and smiling; these are just some of the simple (and super important) ways to let others know you see, respect, and value them.
- Respond to emails in a timely manner. One of my top-performing clients sent his boss an email with a deep analysis about a new competitor. The boss never responded. My client was so devastated he considered leaving the company. Leaders, if you aren’t able to keep up with emails and other communications, consider this a “systems” snafu. Time to get the resources you need so you can respond to people, stat.
- Step out of the C-Suite. I mean this both literally and figuratively. At company gatherings, leaders tend to talk amongst themselves. Instead, mix and mingle with your team and other contributors.
- Build recognition into the company culture. Giving specific feedback about a job well done is a powerful way to make people feel appreciated. Note the word “specific.” Offering generalized praise is an empty gesture at best. At worst, it shows how disconnected a leader really is. Instead, make sure you know exactly what a person or team has achieved and acknowledge why it was special or important.
And one more thought. Like so many aspects of great leadership, you can learn and master strategies for tapping into the strengths of those around you. When you do, I bet you’ll realize you’re surrounded by smart, creative, boundary-pushing people who can’t wait to help you tackle the next challenge.
Candra Canning is the founder of Live Bright Now. She’s been coaching corporate leaders + teams to brighten their performance for 20 years. Candra believes a bright company culture creates bright leaders + bright communities — even a brighter world.