Googling the word “lead” gives you the following definitions: “Be in charge or command of,” “Organize and direct,” “Set in motion.” These (and most) definitions out there are often focused on how a leader should act instead of how a leader should make others feel. Both are important, but I would argue you should start with thinking about how people feel (and want to feel) in order to shape the actions of a leader.
But does good leadership look the same across cultures? No. Not always.
We all have values that are important to us—what we believe is right and wrong, good and bad, ethical and unethical. These values help shape who we are and what we believe in. These values, in turn, affect our behaviors and thoughts, including what we think good leadership looks like. We tend to have similar values (and, therefore, similar views on leadership) to those in our circle or group. A group could be an organization, an industry, or even an entire country.
For example, the idea of a good leader at Coca-Cola might be different from the idea of a good leader at Pepsi. A good leader might have certain characteristics at Ford that are completely opposite the characteristics desired at a new startup. What a good leader looks like in Japan might not be the same in Morocco or Belgium or Chile.
What is a good leader? Is it someone who is charismatic and persuasive? Is it someone who takes time to build relationships with everyone at the company? Is it someone who makes decisions quickly or one who takes time to consider all options before moving forward?
With all of these differences in mind, here are seven behaviors that all leaders should strive to practice.
1. Make time for people
As a leader, you must make time for people. This seems like a simple idea; however, many leaders today are so swamped with their own work that they do not have enough time to give to their teams.
In addition to the usual, scheduled one-on-one check-ins, make sure to create other moments to interact with your team. Stop by their desks to say hello, give them a call, send them a note—check in and see how they are doing. Ask questions. What are they working on? How is their day going? What ideas do they have for efficiencies or improvements? What are they struggling with? Finding windows of time to chat with people will show that you are a leader who cares and who takes interest in the lives of her team.
2. Teach people something new
Most managers are there to make sure everyone is doing “the usual” and that the status quo is running smoothly. You hire people to do a specific job, and you manage them to make sure they are doing that job as efficiently as possible.
The issue with this line of thinking is that individuals are not static. Individuals want to grow and learn and take on new responsibilities in addition to their usual day-to-day activities.
As a leader, part of your job should be to teach your team additional aspects of the business so that they learn new skills. Make time to teach something that’s outside of their usual role but that will be helpful for them either personally or professionally. For example, take some time to teach someone pivot tables or walk them through your P&L. Introduce them to someone in another department or division. Include your boss in some one-on-one meetings so that they get some face time with others in the organization. If you are not helping your team build skills, you’re doing them a disservice.
3. Motivate people
People get motivated when they feel like they have a purpose. Teams get motivated when they have a common goal. Explain to your people how their job and the tasks they do are vital to (and fit into) the overall goals of your organization. Let them see how they are making an impact (that could be monetarily or with other stats—how many clients did they speak to that month).
People also want to break up the monotony of the day. If possible, send your people to conferences or networking events—get them out of the office for a bit. They will come back feeling re-energized and motivated and will have lots to share with the team.
4. Really listen
Everyone wants to be heard. They want to feel included and that they belong. One of the best ways to make all this happen is to listen—really listen. Hear what their goals are, what they want from their work. Most people want different things. Some people want the same things but in different ways. Motivation and reward for one person may look totally different for someone else. Hear what each individual needs to be happy, engaged and productive and adjust your leadership style accordingly.
5. Appreciate people
Say “thank you”—a lot! Send random emails thanking your team. Send cards. Publicly recognize how hard they are working. Give small gifts to say thanks. Tell others how amazing they are. Do something nice for their birthdays or work anniversaries. Anything, no matter how small, shows that you care and are thinking about them. Take people to lunch, buy them coffee. Organize quarterly outings with the team outside of the office—take them bowling or for drinks. Appreciation goes a long way in creating team cohesion and strong bonds.
6. Support your people
Your job isn’t to keep your team at your organization as long as possible. Well, I mean, it’s part of your job, I suppose. But the main goal of any leader should be to support their team and empower them to go on to do bigger and better things. That could mean something else at your organization or something at another organization altogether.
Don’t spend time worrying about losing your employees. Be happy that you have helped shape them in some way, motivated them, and empowered them to reach for what they want. Support them in any way you can.
7. Understand cultural differences
More and more people are working on multicultural teams and global virtual teams. If you are a leader of these teams, you know how challenging it can be. A good rule of thumb when putting together any team is to assess their cultural preferences. How do they prefer to communicate? How do they want to receive feedback? Do they prefer to work individually or as a group? What type of management style works best for them?
Taking the time up front to assess the cultural preferences of each team member will help you as a leader better understand your team, and, more importantly, will ensure your people feel respected and understood.