The path to good leadership is fraught with frustrations and tough decisions. But does it have to be so hard? Is there a way to bypass some of the pain and stress associated with having difficult conversations with your staff? In short, yes, and it takes some solid prep work to get there. After interviewing a couple of influential and authentic leaders I know and reflecting on my experiences with good (and poor) leadership styles, I found there are three key qualities to build up and fall back on when tough conversations need occur.
This is all about “knowing thy self.” First, know your blind spots and be aware of your talents. This helps decide who should be on your team; who complements your weaknesses with their strengths?
Second, setting clear boundaries around what you need to do versus what you need your staff to do helps you differentiate between helping with work and taking the work. You get to do more mentoring and coaching while empowering your team to do what you hired them to do when boundaries are distinct!
Third, what do you contribute? Dig into your value by asking close friends and associates (who will be honest with you) about what “your fizz” is (as Cathy likes to say!)
“Believe in people”
Expect the best of people, be invested in them and their growth, and empower them to do what they do best. Growth mindset tells us that expecting the best in people will help them rise to your expectations. This is harder said than done AND can be achieved in small measures by setting clear boundaries (as above) and believing people are doing the best they can.
Spend time getting to know your people and what their biggest challenges are. Empower them to act on their own solutions, and observe their action. This helps show them that you have confidence in what they can do! And when that difficult situation happens and you need to ask someone to trust you, they will have a basis to do so.
The third quality, modeling courage, means building truth-speaking practices with your team to have deeper, more trusting relationships, especially when paired with the clear boundaries you set. This includes needing to be honest when things aren’t working. It takes a big dose of courage to go in front of your team and ask, “What am I doing wrong and how do I fix things?” Hopefully, honest suggestions will come out of your discussion and dispel some anxiety. Assuming you follow up (which you must), more trust and better relationships will follow.
There you have it. Be self-aware, believe in your people, and model courage to build a strong foundation with your employees for when the tough stuff happens! What values do you utilize in the way you lead? And, are there different strategies you use with your staff? Please share with us in a comment below!
Amber Peterson is a partner at Peterson & Perme Associates, LLC.