There are plenty of articles about how a leader must prove empathy, motivation, and compassion as a set of skills to be a good leader. But what does that really mean? Probably most of the leaders would answer "YES" to the question “Are you empathetic to your team?” But are they? Is the motivation really inner driven or is it more led by external factors? Do they understand and listen to their teams and their needs? Or is it more like seeking a win:win situation at all costs?
Being a mindful leader helps to create an environment for the team so they can openly speak up and will receive a transparent understandable answer. More than ever, due to the global pandemic COVID-19, people seek acceptance, compassion, motivation, and well-being. Here are 5 simple steps to be a mindful leader.
1. Ask more, talk less
Frequent and regular one on one meetings are essential as well as whole team meetings. The common experience of 1:1 is that a leader starts with questions like “how are you?”, “How have you been?” “So, what’s new?”. Right after there he/she goes asking about the business, KPIs, leader’s needs, personal results, and weekly/monthly expectations. Usually, it ends up with a leader trying to define those KPIs, team goals, and the company’s vision, a bit of motivation, and necessary gratitude for collaboration. Where are employees’ needs? What is their real motivation? What can be really done to accomplish desired win:win situation? As a leader, ask more, talk less. React on how an employee feels, seems to react to questions, what emotions can be read, or how the body language gives signals in between the lines. Bring the attention to the employee, not to your needs. Try to use questions like "What would you do?", or "What do you think is the next right step?", or even "Are you still happy doing this?".
2. Bring them to the table
Being a leader does not mean "I have to do it all". Actually, the more you bring people to the topic and let them be part of the journey, the execution, or even to let them brainstorm about ideas and the process, the more valuable results you may get. Ask them to speak up their opinions, feedbacks, options, or ideas. Coach them and challenge them to be involved in daily operations, process improvements, or even team-building activities. It is like asking a crew to build a ship. They get plans, resources and they build a ship. Are they happy? Might not be. But what if you first show them the direction of that island you want you to take them to. For that, you need them to build that ship. Suddenly, they might feel more involved in the vision of being there and wanting to be part of the journey. That goes quite similar with projects at work, team competition, or any other team KPIs. Let them use their autonomy to think about solutions, ways to achieve their goals. Let them ask for information and ask them back for their opinion. Drive their inner motivation to bring the best out of them.
3. Do things for no reason
Most of the times leaders try to motivate with external factors. If you do this, I will reward you with something. Or, leaders set up 1:1s to get to the points of their desire, as explained above. Perhaps even, they invite their teams to teambuilding or lunch because someone told them it is a good thing to do. But compassion also lies in things done for no reason. Just send a message with happy birthdays wishes, buy a coffee, bring snacks. There doesn't have to be a reason for everything. Prove your humanity, prove your vulnerability, let yourself be part of the team, do not stand above. Observe how the team is feeling and behaving. Ask them about their emotions, life experiences and how is everything going? Do not make these questions sound empty. Listen and resonate with every answer. Let the team acknowledge your presence. Sometimes, you won't get any results or numbers, but just the answer "thanks for listening". And for a leader, that is the greatest result and accomplishment.
4. Let the team set expectations
It is quite common for leaders to set up expectations via goals and aims for the current week, month, quarter, or year. They comment on each KPI, project and ask their team to be fully involved and take over the responsibility to reach those targets. "I expect you all to focus and deliver the best you can". If such goals are not being met, leaders are trying to motivate their team and push them to do better. And same goes during 1:1s. "I want you to focus on your communication skills with your peers." If the target is missed and the goal is not accomplished, usually next 1:1 or a team meeting is full of regrets, negativity, complains, and blaming one another. But what if a leader is not the only one who sets such expectations. Have you ever asked your team to set their expectations? Have you ever used questions such as "what can I do for you to help you to deliver this project?", or "How can I be here for you to ensure you are happier at work?". If we set mutual and genuine expectations, the relationship actually drives inner motivation to not let each other down. It is like a pact between leaders and their teams to reach KPIs and grow together.
5. The 3Ts as a foundation stone
There are 3 “T” to help each leader to support their team, build a strong and healthy relationship, and get the best outcomes possible. These 3 T go for the TRUST, TRANSPARENCY, and TRUTH. The truth is crucial to connect with the team. Do not manipulate, ask open questions, and provide the necessary information. If you cannot or you are not obliged to reveal everything, tell them so. Do not create a space of misunderstanding, a blur doubtful environment. As you do not want them to lie to you, but to be honest, prove yourself as open, trustful and genuine. Trust lets you bring the best out of your team. When a team feels supported and they know they can rely on their team leader, they can go bigger and think out of the box. The more trustful relationship you have the more transparent communication you will get. Transparency is the key to success. Ask for feedback and provide a detailed review as well. If you do not feel well and you are being questioned about your status, tell them so. If numbers are not ok, tell them so. A transparent environment reduces judgment, blame, stress, and fears. If the company is facing hard times, employees know it even if not being told. Telling the truth gains trust, trust creates a transparent environment. First, inspire them with 3Ts so they can feel motivated to prove the same back to you.