W.C.H. Prentice in a landmark article defined leadership thusly: “the accomplishment of a goal through the direction of human assistants”
Prentice believed a successful leader is one who understands people’s motivations. They are someone who enlist organization members’ participation in a way that brings together the interests and needs of individuals to the group’s purpose. Prentice believed in a democratic leadership that gives organization members a space in which they can learn and grow. Yet, this space needs governed so there is not anarchy.
Prentice’s ideas about how to motivate people to support the organization’s purpose is timeless.
Leaders should always be getting to know their group’s members so they can understand their motivations. And one learning about those motivations using them as impetuous to spur that group member into action for the benefit of the organization and themselves.
Material rewards are important but there should also always be room for personal growth, and it is the leader’s job to create that opportunity. This personal growth should be linked both to the group member’s motivations and too the goals of the organization.
The pandemic has put many leaders in tough positions having to hand out various kinds of bad news to the members of their organizations. So, what can leaders do to stay focused and mentally healthy during the pandemic?
Choose to be compassionate towards others but also yourself. This doesn’t mean making up excuses are letting yourself get away with things. But it does mean you should address yourself kindly. Let yourself have an extra fifteen minutes for silent contemplation or meditation during the day to relax you. Take this lens of goodwill and apply it everything you do and everyone you interact with.
When the future is so uncertain it is hard to hold onto what we are working towards. Take some time to sit down and consider what is important to you and how your work helps you hold on to that. Consider what energizes your and inspires you and why.
While it is easy to look at Covid-19 through a lens of fear and uncertainly it may help to look to at it as an opportunity for innovation. Thinking positively can be difficult in times like these but if you accept what you can’t change and look towards what you can affect positively it might help frame things in a new, refreshing light.
Many of us have been thrown headfirst into interacting with others in our organizations long distance. Phone calls, email, chat or text were all familiar for most of us. However, for many speaking in public over Skype, Teams, WebX or Zoom is a new frontier and it is decidedly not the same has speaking to a live group of people.
So, how should one speak over webcast meeting?
First, just because you are in front of a camera doesn’t mean you need to be an actor. On the other hand, screen fatigue is a real thing and you need to do something to keep your audience’s attention. Don’t exaggerate but be conscious of your facial expressions. Make sure your eyes smile. Look directly into the camera and speak like you are speaking to a friend across the table. Be mindful to keep speaking and looking into the camera. Many of us know that when you are speaking in public in person it is good to make eye contact with everyone—the way to do this over a stream is by setting your eyes on the camera at all times.
Remember, you are speaking to people in their homes and adopting a “fireside chat” style will make many more comfortable. If it is a group of people you know you might even consider dressing down just a touch.
For those who speak with your hands, this isn’t going to work well and can even be distracting. If it helps, allow yourself to hold a pen or some other object to occupy your hands with a mind of their own. Do this outside of the camera’s view.
Preparing the shot before hand is helpful. Odd angles or a busy background can be distracting. But having some items on the desk or on the wall that say something about you can add a personal touch to the meeting. Try to make it feel as though you are inviting the audience into your home as well.
While we are a visual, image-oriented culture audio is very important. If you don’t have much experience speaking into a microphone, practice. If you are going to be doing a lot of speaking online it might be worth investing in pro-sumer USB microphone so you can place it correctly for the acoustics of the space you are working in.
Some verbs and phrasings we use when we communicate in business, in leadership roles and generally in our lives can have a subconscious (and maybe even conscious) affect on how people perceive what we say but perhaps even our overall character.
One such verb or phrase is “think” or “I think.” This is an easy one to get rid of as it is a throw away phrase anyway. When speaking or writing it is somewhat redundant to make the statement; if it were anyone else’s thinking 99% of us would describe who the thinking belonged to. So, there is no need to say it in the first place. But why skip the “I think?” It is because it can come off as the speaker being uncertain or still going over things in their head. Plainly speaking your opinion and why others should consider it sounds stronger both in person and on the page.
“Need” is another word one might consider dropping in their phrasing. It may sound silly but when used by a leader when requesting something from subordinate it makes the leader or the one asking sound like they are dependent on that other person entirely. If you are scoffing, consider that these are subtle, subconscious cues that don’t work on our active thinking. “Want” works in a similar way. “I want you to improve the quality of your work” versus “Please, improve the quality of your work” or even “Improve the quality of your work.” Notice the subtle difference in tone that shades the meaning of the statement in all three cases.
“Guess” is another one to watch out for—we all want to be heard as confident and sure. Using “guess” in your language does not accomplish that tonal goal. Likewise, “hope” can add a touch of uncertainty. Don’t hope for things, know that they will happen; make things a will to power over your goals, don’t hope.
Consider making some of these changes to your speech pattern and note if it changes the way people see you and your ideas.
Most people would consider themselves good listeners. As with many things people’s self-assessments of themselves is much higher than the reality. And being a good listener is an essential part of being a good leader. Take a moment to set ego aside and assess whether are not you are listening as well as you could be.
Many people believe that good listening comes down to three simple items: not talking when others are speaking; letting others know you’re listening through facial expression and verbal confirmations (“mmmhmm”); being able to repeat what others have said, maybe even word for word.
A lot of managing advice given about being a good listener specifically instructs that managers do these things. Remain mostly quiet, nod with the obligatory “mmmhmm” and repeat back what the speaker has said. However, many believe this falls short or is at best just the beginning of good listening.
Consider the following as well.
Good listening isn’t just about polite silence while the other person talks. In fact, many believe the opposite is true. Many think that those who periodically ask questions that encourage exploration of the topic to be good listeners. These listeners ask questions that challenge the status quo in a constructive way. Sitting, nodding and making little sounds is no assurance that someone is really listening but when someone hears that their listener is critically analyzing what they say and asking critical thinking questions they know that person is really listening.
Good listening should include some kind of interaction that helps build the speaker’s self-esteem. A good listener makes the conversation a positive experience and this can’t happen through silence or negative criticism. Good listeners make people feel supported and that the listener has confidence in them.
The best listening is seen as a just a part of cooperative conversation. Feedback should be a back and forth with neither party becoming defensive about what the other has said. Looking only for errors in what another is saying might make you good at academic argumentation but not a good listener. The speaker should feel you are trying to help.
Just listening isn’t enough.
Good listeners do make suggestions. If a listener says nothing the speaker might as well journal their problems as the blank page is as responsive as a listener who says nothing, suggests nothing and doesn’t actively support the speaker.
Here are some additional questions a leader can use to help a mentee evaluate themselves or a problem they are having.
What can you control is another great question leaders can ask their mentees. The best part about this question is that it shifts the focus away from what is out of the control of the mentee clearing the mind to think about what one could actually do about the situation.
What solutions have you come up with is a good question because when struggling, stagnating is the worst thing someone can do. Knowing that your mentee has at least some ideas and won’t be relying strictly on their leader for ideas and answers.
While strictly not a question, tell me more, is a request that can help bring to the surface biases or blind spots that might be stopping up the mentee or additional details the leader can use to help the mentee.
Finally, one might ask, what are you reading? Asking about hobbies, interests, reading habits and similar questions help a leader to get to know their mentee on a personal level. This can give the leader a more complete view of the mentee.
Leaders and mentors should not feel obligated to use all these questions all the time when mentoring team members. Like much else they are a toolbox and one should always select the correct tool for the job.