Effective business leaders aren't just experts in their given fields; they have an innate awareness of their teams or organizations.
Yet often, leadership is thrust upon a person. The skill set that advanced your career may not have prepared you for managing relationships and people, cautions Roxana "Roxi" Hewertson, a leadership development and business management guru and CEO of Highland Consulting Group, an executive coaching firm. "If you can program software, it doesn't mean that you can fix a car or dance a ballet," she says.
Regarded as the "Dear Abby of Leadership," Hewertson has more than 20 years of experience helping leaders improve their businesses and evaluate the impact of their actions. Through her site, AskRoxi.com, she offers a community of executives and managers the tools, services and techniques to overcome business challenges.
The good news is that practically anyone can learn to be a good leader. "Leadership is a discipline," says Hewertson. First and foremost, leaders have to recalibrate their views on the workplace.
Your groundbreaking invention, innovative code or clever way with data may have pushed your career to new heights, but as a leader, it's time to develop awareness around your company's greatest assets, namely its people. Here are Hewertson's tips for improving your understanding of what makes your team tick.
4 Small Business Leadership Essentials
1. Improve listening skills
Stow the headphones, keep your office door open and engage with your workforce. "If you lose the human connection you're in trouble," says Hewertson.
Face-to-face communication is paramount. Email and other forms of electronic communications, even real-time instant messaging, mask a ton of non-verbal information. (That "Grats!" can conceal a snarky smirk or an epic eye-roll.) But striking up a conversation is only the start of engendering awareness.
"Listen deeply," she says. Focus solely on your colleague and listen intently. Resist the temptation to check your iPhone or otherwise multitask.
The act of making that colleague the center of your universe for a few moments shows that you're "honoring her, that's the only person that you're listening to," says Hewertson. And that goes a long way toward fostering a responsive and collaborative workplace.
2. Show some empathy
"Nothing personal" has become a popular refrain in business, but a leader's job, in large part, is to manage relationships and people—a task that is as personal as it gets. Put aside the org chart for a moment and put yourself in a subordinate's position. What are their ambitions and goals? How do they feel about their role within the organization?
If something matters to them, make it matter to you. As a leader, if I'm "willing to understand your perspective, it increases my awareness about you," says Hewertson.
3. Bridge the details and the big picture
In her years coaching leaders, Hewertson has observed an interesting phenomenon.
Creatives generally focus on the big picture first and work to realize their vision. Coders, she noticed, are more detail oriented. "They want to understand the pieces and parts first, and then tie them to the big picture," she says. "It's an awareness that most leaders don't have."
Remember this when you interact your workers. Often, managers and employees will talk past each other because they're approaching a project from different perspectives, which can stall momentum. Take a moment to discern if your team members are focused on the details or the big picture. Listen, adjust your strategy, and deliver your insights and support "in their language," recommends Hewertson.
4. Be accessible to your employees
There's no getting around it, effective leaders are visible leaders.
Sure, email, IM and social networks have revolutionized business communications. Distressingly, many managers "are way too dependent on electronic communication and have lost personal contact," says Hewertson.
The solution: "Walk around and pay attention to what's going on," she says. Observe your employees. Are they having a good time? Are they interacting with one another?
Ask more questions and blab less. Get to know your workers and what they love doing. Solicit constructive criticism, challenge your assumptions, and ask how you can help them accomplish their goals.
In short order, a little legwork and engagement will help make you an aware and effective boss, not some cipher that issues directives from behind closed doors. "It makes you visible, makes you more accessible," says Hewertson.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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