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Six Things Every Leader Must Do

Whether you are a corporate executive, college leader, nonprofit leader, community leader, mom, dad, etc. there are certain basic principles that must be applied in order to get others to follow.

Here are the "Top 6" things every leader must do.

1 - Expect. Tell others what you expect. Set an intention to communicate upfront. We move fast - we delegate fast. Expectations research suggests that we may not always know what we are expecting until those implicit, unstated expectations are violated; as leaders, we may experience the emotion of "surprise" when things don't happen the way we thought they ought to have happened - and yet we may have failed to communicate what those expectations were. It's a classic breakdown in communication that causes frustration for all. Don't wait for your expectations to be violated - take 5 minutes to imagine the end product/results you are expecting and then ask for input/feedback. Bottom line: Know what you need - ask for what you need - and create buy-in with a two-way conversation.

2 - Recognize. In any fast-paced environment, errors stick out more readily than flawless work; yet excellence is unfolding all around us. As leaders we must strive to recognize when others are doing something right. Like other types of feedback, make sure that your recognition is specific and timely. Start with what you observed the other person doing right and then describe the impact of that on the team or organization. In our fast-paced environments - many of which are still mixed in to a virtual setting - it's easy to forget to notice the little things that are unfolding just as we hoped they would. Recognition of work done well ought to be on every leader's weekly "to do" list - it takes less than 5 minutes to note and state the positives - the ripple effect will flow into satisfaction, engagement and performance (for your students, children, board members, employees. etc.).

3 - Teach. Offer feedback when others are not meeting your expectations (again, make sure you know and have communicated what those are). Each moment has the potential to be a two-way teaching moment in which we can ask ourselves if we communicated expectations in advance, if we offered adequate coaching, and/or if there is a larger performance issue that needs to be addressed. Moments of surprise - either positive or negative - may present a teachable moment for you or for those you lead.

4 - Correct. Address "problem behavior" in a positive manner. The failure to address small issues can lead to bigger performance issues, team conflict and undermine individual/team trust. The #1 issue I see in families, board rooms and corporations is a lack of early detection for the correction of problem behavior/performance. When I am brought in to assist with the aftermath of poor communication - my first question to the leader is generally, "Does the employee/board member/other person know there is a problem?" Often the answer is "no." (This loops back to the first point about the importance of communicating expectations in advance.)

I want to acknowledge that It can be challenging to communicate difficult messages and it requires some advance preparation to do it well. Positive ripples can result from constructive two-way coaching conversations and there are tools to assist. If you find that you've been holding on to a tough message, revisit the "Feedback Formula" provided below - it's a classic reference for delivering constructive feedback. How we deal with systemic problems and/or performance issues presents a teachable moment for the whole team - I hope this resource helps. Call me if you need assistance.

Feedback and Appreciation Formula
Download PDF • 241KB

5 - Take a Time Out. As leaders we know that we set an example for the rest of the community. It can be challenging to react well under all circumstances - especially when schedules demand so much of us in so many areas. When my kids were little, we had a basic, never-to-be-violated rule: we do not hit. In our house, this included not hitting with our words. As a communication and organizational development practitioner who facilitates difficult conversations and creates momentum for positive change, I have witnessed a few verbal/nonverbal lashings. I have also witnessed and facilitated a lot of thoughtful conversations where I know a leader was being actively challenged and was choosing to respond in a thoughtful manner. It's important to remember that, as a leader, everyone around us is learning from our words and actions. It's also important to remember that leadership is a learned skill - and that we are learning and growing every day. The next time you are presented with a challenge, it's okay to take a "time out." Stop talking. Take 5 deep breaths. Acknowledge that you'd like to think about it. And then reset and revisit the issue after feelings have cooled down.

6 - Make Time to Lead. Who is a leader you admire? What are the things she/he/they did and/or said that makes them stand out in your mind as a leader? What did they say? What did they do? Make a list of those positive attributes, words and actions and consider adding some of the things you are doing well as a leader. In formal settings, many of us may have the opportunity to participate in leadership training but so many of us evolve into leadership roles without ever receiving formal training. We often learn by doing, by making mistakes and by experiencing successes. With that as our background, I'll bet you are doing a lot of intentional, positive leading right now. Give yourself credit and then consider setting some stretch goals for the week. Maybe there's a new skill you'd like to practice, an agenda you'd like to reinvigorate, a creative strategy you like to revitalize or a new conversation you'd like to launch. Consider putting leadership on the top of your "to do" list. Leadership takes time - make time to lead. And by the way - thanks.

Thanks for your positive leadership. It makes work fun. It makes homes exciting. It makes volunteering awesome. Imagine the possibilities. With positive vision as the guide, anything is possible.

© Kathy Sturgis, PhD. Kathy is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact to schedule a motivational program or team/individual coaching session.

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