In my recent post, Traits of Global Leader Part 1: Know Thyself, I introduced my theory that great global leaders have two essential sets of traits: awareness of self and awareness of others. That first post explored the awareness of self, including understanding your personal brand, sticking to what you believe, and how these two traits affect public perception of you as a leader.
Now we’re going to move on to awareness of others. This doesn’t mean that great leaders are universally liked. As a recent Inc. article on leadership explained, “Great leaders aren’t always the most likable people. In the long run, great leaders recognize that their job is to get people to do things they might not want to do, in order to achieve goals they want to achieve.”
In a nutshell, your goal as a global leader should be to earn respect by doing the right thing and making the hard decisions that benefit your organization. At the same time, you don’t want to alienate your employees — so be sure to demonstrate empathy and understanding, even while reaffirming your role as a strong leader.
Of course, many leaders assume they’re already aware of others in every way that matters, but there are two practices that can deepen every leader’s ability to connect with others.
Listen to People
Plenty of leaders like to talk, but the best leaders realize the value in listening. The problem is, a huge part of being a good listener is acknowledging you don’t know everything, recognizing when you don’t know something and allowing someone else to fill you in—a tall order for many in leadership roles.
Once you can get over the fact that you’re not always the most informed person on a particular subject, you might be surprised by how much you learn. There’s a less obvious reward too: the enhanced respect that comes from giving your employees an opportunity to shine.
This is especially important when critical or difficult decisions must be made. Sure, you could just make the decisions yourself, but by opening up the conversation to others on your team you can gain valuable insight and discover fresh angles. More importantly, you give your employees a chance to be a part of the decision-making process, which recognizes their value and allows them to become invested in the outcome.
As TV host Larry King once said, “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”
Broaden Your Reach
When was the last time you talked to an entry-level employee or visited a far-flung office or division? Traveled around to store locations? Rolled up your sleeves to help with a small project? To many employees in your organization you may just be a name at the top of an organization chart, or the office where major decisions are made – and that needs to change.
Great leaders are more than just a name. They’re a symbol and a source of encouragement, stability and expertise for employees. So don’t hide — get out there and meet your people and get a taste of their daily lives at work.
Best Buy’s CEO, Hubert Joly, epitomizes this notion. When he took over as Best Buy’s CEO in 2012, he spent a week working as a floor employee at a Minnesota Best Buy store, helping customers, restocking shelves and going on Geek Squad calls.
I had a similar experience when I started my project with the global, Swedish-owned furniture giant, Ikea. They asked me to work for two days in a store to understand fully what an employee’s day was like. I worked the cashier, lugging furniture in the warehouse, in floor design, sales, and in the back offices. It was a phenomenal experience and taught me a lot about Ikea’s company culture.
I think Kasper Rorsted, head of global manufacturer Henkel, perfectly stated the importance of being available as a leader in a recent interview with McKinsey. He said: “I am convinced that a visible and accessible leadership style is most effective. My door is open; I encourage colleagues to call me directly. Our employees know who I am and what I’m doing. I eat with employees in our canteens whenever I am traveling or here at headquarters. You cannot run a global company from your desk. That’s why I spend around 170 days per year abroad, meeting employees—from top executives to young high-potential individuals—as well as customers and business partners.”
To close this two-parter, I’ll encourage you to remember that everything leaders do has a trickle-down effect. Be mindful of your actions and relationships, because your colleagues and your employees will emulate what you do. Successful organizations need inspiring leaders. Be the confident, self-aware and empathetic leader your employees want, and they will follow your example.