Small Things that Make a Big Difference in Leadership
Updated: Feb 24
Focus groups can be a valuable resource for insights into leadership. Late last year, I asked a virtual focus group the following question: "What small things can a leader do that can make a big difference?"
As a group, we compiled a list and summarized each idea into one or two sentences. Below are our results, in no particular order. At the end of the article, I offer a conclusion based on my years of experience as a leadership consultant that may surprise you.
Value a team member's ideas: Ask us what we think. Don't act as though you have all the answers.
Follow-up on our ideas and suggestions: Even when our ideas and suggestions are not implemented, it is the right thing to do to get back to us and explain why it is not a good or feasible idea.
Check-in with team members daily: Ask us questions to get a better idea of the workflow. Questions like, "What do you have on your plate today? What barriers might you encounter?" help us feel heard.
Be flexible: Take an interest in us as people, not just as employees. Life is full of ups and downs. We know the business has to make money, but each of us also has a life that needs our attention.
Let team members know how they are doing: Don't wait weeks or for an annual review to let us know how to improve or develop. Let us know on the spot whenever possible.
Don't do all the talking: Addressing a mistake should be a conversation – if you do all the talking, it is easy for us to get defensive and find fault in what you say.
Use specific praise: General forms of recognition, such as statements like, "good job!" or "Thatta boy/girl," are meaningless. For better results all around, offer specific praise that recognizes our hard work.
Trust us to do our job: Your way of doing things might not necessarily be our way – if we are worried about your reaction to how we complete our tasks, we may not perform at our best.
Confront poor performers: Nothing is more demotivating than being forced to make up for a poor performer because our leader does nothing to resolve the problem.
Delegate to everyone: Do not take your top performers for granted and delegate extra tasks to them all the time—delegate to all, especially your lower-performing workers as well.
Invest in our future: Play a role in our growth and development by asking us how you can use your position to help us grow and develop as professionals.
Train us to meet expectations: Training and coaching others is a skill. Before you assign someone to train us or have us teach others, be sure proper training has taken place.
Treat us with dignity and respect: As you depend on us to perform our best and help you succeed as a leader, we rely on you to treat us with the respect we deserve.
Admit your mistakes: We know when you've made a mistake. Owning up to it is by far the best way to address your errors; it not only earns our respect but helps us improve as a team.
Clarify decision-making: If another employee besides you has the power to tell us what to do, make sure the entire team knows it.
Let us know why: When change is underway in the workplace, help us understand the why and how. Whatever you do, do not say, "Because I said so" – it is demeaning and condescending.
Each of the above suggestions falls under a leader's job description. They also fall under some of the most basic motivational needs people of all generations have in order to become productive in the workplace. The sad fact is that many workers are promoted to leaders because they are good at the job. As a result, many so-called "leaders" are more adept at knowing "what" needs to be done than "how" to do it through the effective leadership of their team.
60% of this focus group, which consisted of twelve employees, reported that they looked for a different job within the last 30 days before the session. The bottom line is that your organization will pay for leadership training, either by hiring a professional like myself or by facing lower productivity and high turnover.
The choice is yours. Remember, Leaders are Made, not Born!