If you want to be a good leader, be more like Fred!!!
In developing leaders, I often think back to leaders I had over me, and one stands out, Fred Crouch. At first glance, Fred isn't one of those who fits our traditional image of a leader - especially back in the '90s when leadership was about projecting a strong image, setting high standards, and holding everyone accountable. I have had plenty of leaders like that, but they aren't the ones who got my best work. Fred did. Do you want to know his magic sauce?
He saw the best in me
Instead of finding everything I did wrong and bringing that to my attention, Fred found what I did right and praised that. Fred constantly told me all the good things I was doing. He made me feel I could do no wrong. At the time, I was too self-critical and often dismissed his praises - I preferred listening to the negative voices in my head to all the wonderful things Fred said about me. However, all his praises inspired me to work better, not slack off, as the common misconception goes.
Studies show the benefit of focusing on what is going right leads to much more effective change for a few reasons:
By focusing on what is going right, you increase people's positive emotions, which are highly contagious. When people feel good about one thing, it rolls over to other things they are working on, and it also rolls over to other people. Furthermore, when people are in a good mood, it energizes them, and they work better. A study at Oxford found that happy employees are 13% more productive!
By focusing on what is right, you clarify what you want for your team. One of the great failings I see among leaders is a lack of clarity. Leaders may know in their heads what they want, but it isn't always clear to the humans trying to follow them. Effective leaders have the power to communicate their expectations clearly to their team by using specific and tangible examples. By noting good examples in my work, Fred clarified what was desirable and encouraged more of the same. Using concrete examples, leaders can guarantee that their team receives and absorbs their message, leading to a productive and efficient work environment. It gives them models and goals and encourages even greater work in the future.
He created a psychologically safe space. Because I knew Fred had my back and believed in the best for me, I was willing to take risks and try new things. I felt empowered because Fred had already made it clear to me that he believed in me. A study at Google found that psychological safety was the number one factor of effective workplaces sparking innovation and creativity.
Research suggests that it takes about five positive statements to overcome the impact of one negative statement (especially for high achievers who tend to be self-critical like me!) To be honest, I can't remember any negative statements from Fred, but just thinking about him to write this brings back warm feelings. He said so many positive things that now I have a completely positive image of him.
He encouraged my growth
Fred constantly showed me opportunities to learn more and improve at what I did. Not only did he find the opportunities, he also ensured funding for me to attend them and made the space in my schedule to take advantage of them. Out of my thirty working years, I attended more professional development under Fred's watch than under any other supervisor.
Why does this matter? Encouraging employee growth is an example of effective leadership because it attracts the most skilled people and helps with retention and engagement. Surveys have found one of the top reasons people leave jobs is the lack of growth opportunities. By encouraging my growth, Fred enhanced my skills, showed me it was worth staying at that job, and motivated me to try more.
He cared about me as an individual
Fred also demonstrated that he liked me as an individual. Fred invited me to dinner at his house and led me on magical tours of his neighborhood. Over the years, we still keep up with occasional messages or calls. I used to think that we wanted to separate business and private life, but our minds and emotions are not siloed. When people feel their leaders care, they are more likely to stay at their jobs and do hard things.
He demonstrated empathy
Courses in empathy for leaders are in high demand. One aspect of empathy is presenting an open body language that invites people to open up. As you can see in the cover picture of Fred, he had a wonderful smile, which is almost permanently attached to his face. Every image in my mind of Fred is with that smile. That smile invited me to feel comfortable with him and also was contagious. Smiling can make you feel happier, and when you feel happier, you work better. It also meant he was open to me approaching him with my questions and concerns so that I could learn more and improve my performance.
Follow Fred's example of effective leadership, and lead like the best!
If you want to get the most from your people, take these lessons from Fred. Smile, get to know them, look for the good in them, help them grow, and show them you care!
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