If you ask five people what leadership is, you will probably get six different answers.
Everyone seems to have a different view. Some of which are based on what they want from their leaders. Some of the views are based on why they want to be a leader, and what they want to get out of it.
In my humble opinion, the role of the leader has nothing to do with the latter, it’s all about the former.
What do the people you lead want from you?
One of the realities of being a leader is that you cannot do it all on your own.
In fact, regarding output your contribution is probably the smallest of anyone.
This means that you depend on your team to create the success and the results that you are looking to achieve.
So leadership is all about the team and the people you lead.
Over the years based on feedback, experience and the input from teams I have led, these are the six things that the majority of teams were looking for from their leader.
I would say the number one reason for failure and the poor level of employee engagement is the lack of clear direction.
Without a clear direction, how are teams supposed to know what to do?
Providing clear direction should be the first thing a leader takes care of. Give your teams a clear picture of the goal, a clear definition of what success looks like and what you expect of them.
Now let me be clear here when I say provide Clear Direction, the only way you know it’s clear is by asking them.
Just because you think you have been clear doesn’t mean that it is clear to them.
I have often heard leaders say, but I gave clear direction, so not sure what happened. Yet, when I speak with their teams they tell me that had no clue what was required, they just received some vague information but were told it was clear.
Without clarity of direction, failure is pretty much guaranteed!
Tip: Try to keep explanations simple and ask the team if they understand the direction.
A Safe Environment
It’s hard to do your best work when you’re worried, super-stressed or even worse afraid. That could be afraid of failing, losing your job, or just something as simple as being shouted at in public.
Happy people are productive people, and as their leader, it’s your job to take care of them and keep them happy. Part of that is creating a safe environment. One where they feel you have got their back, that they can be open without fear of criticism, knowing that they will be treated fairly and with respect.
That doesn’t mean you can’t hold them accountable, or be firm. It just means you have to be fair, consistent and respectful.
Tip: When things go wrong, look to find solutions, do not fall into the blame game. Blame kills trust and creates a stressful, rather than safe, environment.
Set Up For Success
People are not afraid of hard work, they are afraid of failure. If you can show them how to be successful and set them up for success then they will work extremely hard for you.
How do I know this?
Because nobody comes to work looking to fail. Everybody wants to be part of a winning team. It’s hard-wired into us, it’s one of our basic needs. It helps to build and feed our self-esteem.
Every leader I have ever known has always wanted their teams to take more accountability or ownership, and the best way to do this is to set them up for success. If your people don’t have what they need to be successful then why should they take ownership or want to be accountable?
Tip: When you assign tasks always ask your team if they have what they need to be successful. When they say yes, then they have accepted accountability. If they say no, then give them what they need.
Give Them The Space To Be Successful
If there is one thing that employees hate more than anything it’s being micromanaged.
It’s not good for them, and it’s not a good look for a leader. I would go as far as saying that no one wants to work for a Micro Manager, let alone enjoys it.
Tip: Tell your team the outcome you are looking for and then leave them to get on with it. That doesn’t mean you can’t check-in periodically, but not every 30 minutes. Give them the space to do the work.
To Get Support When Needed
Once your team is up and running, then there are only two things a leader needs to do – provide encouragement and support when needed. The road to success is often full of twists and turns and the odd pitfall, helping your teams navigate them will help to keep them on the path to success.
It can be daunting for people to ask for help, but when we create that safe environment a big part of that is getting them to feel comfortable asking for help.
I always tell my teams that if they need my help, I would prefer that they ask for it at a point in time when I can do something to help them, not when it’s too late. If they wait too long, then they are stopping me from doing my job.
Tip: Let your team know that you are there to help them. And that they are welcome to approach you if they have a critical problem that they need help with.
To Get Good Feedback
I am a big fan of recognition, and over my career, I have found that praise is one of the best tools in a leaders toolbox. It costs nothing, and the returns can be significant.
But I called this section good feedback rather than positive feedback because I think good feedback is just as valuable as positive feedback.
What I mean by good feedback is feedback that your teams can use. Praise they can use to motivate themselves, so that’s good feedback.
Criticism doesn’t fall into that category, even if when passed off as constructive criticism. Your goal should be to give constructive feedback, provide them with advice on what they can do better next time rather than dwelling on any mistake or poor performance. Leaders are coaches just as much as they are managers. It’s part of your role to improve the people in your team, and criticism doesn’t improve anything.
Tip: When giving feedback think of it as feedforward. Give the feedback as advice on how your team can do it better next time.
If you can incorporate these six things into your leadership approach, not only will it make you a better leader, it will make your team a better team. You will achieve better results, and that will make you a leader that people want to work for and one that they want working for their companies.
A version of this article was previously published on LinkedIn.