That which is rewarded is repeated. What are you rewarding with your words or actions? And how? A good compliment can motivate some folks for months. For others, a thoughtful gift or act of service to show gratitude can make a meaningful impression. Identify others’ love languages* to understand how to customize your appreciation for maximum impact, then don’t withhold your blessing. Little moments can make a big difference; indeed, showing gratitude is one of the least expensive ways to motivate teammates (Note: For most people, affirmations should outweigh criticisms ten to one.).
“You can buy a person’s hand, but you can’t buy his heart. His heart is where his enthusiasm, his loyalty is. You can buy his back, but you can’t buy his brain. That’s where his creativity is, his ingenuity, his resourcefulness.”
- Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
*See Dr. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages
There are many types of intelligence—logical, linguistic, kinesthetic, and rhythmic—but every great leader shares one in particular: high emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand the inner workings of people. Leaders with a high EQ know how to adjust to a wide range of personalities, fluctuating emotional states, situational social needs, and cultural subtleties. Most importantly, high EQ leaders are gender intelligent. These leaders know how to respect and connect with both men and women. They recognize the impact of gender on individual experience, while also understanding that each individual experience is unique.
“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”
- Mahatma Gandhi, Leader of the Indian independence movement
At some point you will need to speak to a group of people, whether that’s an assembly of five or five thousand. To deliver a memorable, high-impact message, follow the 5 S’s/5 B’s of public speaking: Short ‘n Sweet, Sister, Short ‘n Sweet / Be Brief, Brother, Be Brief. Keep your content focused and on point. Divide longer presentations into segments of twenty minutes. If using PowerPoint, use the 3-2-1 rule: 30 point font, 20 minutes, and 10 slides. And always begin with a bang. Create instant engagement with a catchy vignette, joke, or activity requiring audience participation.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
- William Arthur Ward, Author of inspirational maxims
We each have a hero within. Leaders speak to that hero and draw her out with words of hope and encouragement and life. Leaders speak from their beliefs and lead with their why. They first inspire us, then inform us. Martin Luther King Jr. rallied millions with a dream, not a plan. Words are powerful. Words can motivate and create or demoralize and destroy. Do your words speak to and inspire the hero within others—to their dreams, their visions, and their best selves—or do they silence them? Your words have that power. If you’ve listened well, you will know your team well—and how to fill them with fire.
“The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.”
- John Buchan, Former Governor of Canada
Communication begins when someone becomes aware of us, not just when we start talking. Eye contact, facial expressions, hand gestures—are you paying attention? People say a lot without saying anything at all. When it comes to words, leaders listen first and speak second. Active listening requires selflessness. Stop thinking of what you are going to say next and start paying attention to what the other person is saying right now. Maintain eye contact, don’t look at your phone, and ask insightful follow-up questions. Lastly, learn the other person’s name. There is no trick to this. Simply ask until you remember.
“Silence is sometimes the best answer.”
Dalai Lama, Buddhist monk and spiritual leader of Tibet
Thoughts are things. They shape our internal landscape, which creates our external landscape. Enthusiasm attracts enthusiastic people. Creativity attracts creative people. Strong values attract values-driven people. Get it? We become—and attract—what we believe. So are you focusing on the possible or the past? On being positive or pessimistic? Of course, blind optimism isn’t practical or prudent. Thinking things are perfect won’t make them so. However, thinking something possible is the only place to start. Your feet will follow your eyes. What you believe shapes what you see, how you act, and who you become.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
- Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist
When your day in the spotlight does come—and it will—how will you respond? Will you consume the power or share it? Absorb the attention or reflect it towards those around you? The secret handshake of great leaders is humility. They don’t need to boast or brag. They don’t need others’ approval or all of the credit. Leaders use their strength for service, not status. Instead of keeping power, they give it away. Instead of taking credit, they share it generously. For this, leaders are given more of both. Humility makes the great greater—a paradox indeed.
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves.”
- Lao Tzu, Ancient Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism
Leaders, first and foremost, lead themselves. Self-leadership happens in the small, quiet moments of everyday living when no one is looking. Your character is the accumulation and culmination of each one of your actions—big and small, known and unknown. Make excellence a part of all you do. Make each moment your masterpiece. As Salinger says in Franny and Zooey, “Shine your shoes for the [lady] in the back row.” Don’t worry if no one notices because someday—after many moments of just you, your dream, and your daily task—they will. It’s hard to hide brilliance and beauty and a job well done.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
- Aristotle, Ancient Greek philosopher and scientist
Words are only worth so much. People want proof. They want to be shown how, not just told how. They want to see results, not just be promised them. They want to see you in the trenches—buried in the muck, getting your hands dirty, co-laboring with them. People have an inherent tendency to repeat what they see. This is called the Law of Emulation—the time-tested principle of leading by example. Any inconsistency between word and action will lose you followers. So roll up your sleeves and dig in, enthusiastically engaging at every level of the organization while modelling the way.
“You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.”
- Ken Kesey, American novelist and countercultural figure
Become comfortable being uncomfortable. As a leader, you will have to navigate a world of ambiguity. Fear not. Live true to yourself, stay confident in your calling, and focus on the next step forward. Remember, men and women of action are favored by the goddess of good luck. They’re also followed. Courage is contagious. People are willing to jump into the unknown if someone else goes before them. Create the conditions for others to follow you without risk—accept blame fully, but share credit generously—while preparing for the unknown as best you can. You can’t predict the future, yet there’s no need to go into it blindly.
“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”
- Douglas MacArthur, Former five-star general of the US Army