Traditional leaders walk tall and carry big sticks.
They motivate through a Machiavellian combination of intimidation and disapproval. And when it comes to giving feedback, their governing philosophy is "keep your head down and don't give me a reason to call you into my office."
But today's workforce expects more from its leaders. Employees want to be assured that they are having a positive impact at the firm. They want to know how they can improve, and they expect to be rewarded when they do. These expectations necessitate an empathetic leadership style. So, if you plan to empower the next generation at your firm, you'll have to adopt principles that, not too long ago, were considered signs of poor leadership.
- Experts and Rainmakers Need Not Apply: Chances are, the leaders at your firm got to where they are by being the best technicians or the best rainmakers (or both). While these archetypes contribute tremendous value to the firm, they don't necessarily convert into effective management. If you intend to maintain a leadership position, invest in the skill sets that will serve you in your role. A good leadership development program will not only teach you best practices, it will provide the listening, communication, coaching, and management disciplines that are unlikely to simply occur to you on the job.
- Weakness is the New Strength: While you may signal to the marketplace that you're a relentless winner, you will have a hard time motivating your team with the same approach. Studies show that the best way to earn loyalty is to establish commonality. So, when giving constructive feedback, don't just tell your employees what they did wrong and how to fix it. Take a moment to share some of your past missteps and the lessons they taught you along the way. Mistakes are inevitable, and if you foster a culture where they can be analyzed openly, your team will learn from them rather than try to hide them.
- Establish Clear Expectations: Don't allow the whirlwind of your fast-paced work environment to curtail effective communication. My team used to be much less productive until we established a protocol for daily targets. Now, each of my direct reports sends me an email every morning with their priorities and deadlines. That way, they have the opportunity to plan their day, and I can redirect them as necessary.
- Make Time for Positive Feedback: The most common reason people leave their firms is because they feel unappreciated. If you can't get comfortable with the idea of complimenting good work, it won't be long before your direct reports are browsing Glassdoor and taking calls from recruiters. Make it a point to acknowledge at least one person on your team every week. Praise them when they put in a few extra hours on a time-consuming project or when they go out of their way to make your job a little easier. As busy as you are, positive feedback only takes a few minutes compared to the considerable inconvenience of replacing a productive team member.
- Don't Settle for Mediocrity: An emphasis on soft skills doesn't mean you have to soften your standards. If someone on your team is underperforming, give them the mentorship and training they require to turn things around. If they still can't deliver, replace them with someone who can. And yes, that includes partners. It may sound mercenary, but your firm will never reach its full potential with a high tolerance for subpar results.
Needless to say, leadership isn't easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding. Make a service-oriented commitment to motivate and retain your firm's greatest asset: its people.