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When I was growing up, I often heard the phrase, “don’t let that get to your head” when someone was given a compliment for something they did well. I even got in the habit of curbing my own “big-headedness” by downplaying my achievements. I’d say or think things like, “it’s not a big deal” or “I’m just doing my job” to combat the fear of growing too big a head. If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, I mean the ego, the “I am.” That ol’, mysterious ego.
Here’s the thing: This is much more than just ego. What I’m talking about is encouragement and how to foster that necessary part of us — all of us. I wonder sometimes how I might be different if I was allowed to let a few things “get to my head.” I wonder: Where would I be, and how would my career look if I got a little big-headed early on? And while there’s no going back (if you have or know of a time-travel machine, please let me know because I need to say something to my third-grade teacher), there’s always the going forward part that I prefer to focus on.
As professional leaders, we have an obligation to build up the people around us. We want them to be stronger, and we want them to grow. Leaders cannot just direct others around like a herd of sheep. And yes, sheep have their place in this world, but leaders should be more like the captain of a ship. They are in charge and respected but leave room for everyone else to do their jobs and to do them well, or the ship goes down. Is this an easy task? Depends on how you see yourself — but I don’t have time for that! I do have time, however, to share my thoughts on how to empower, encourage and engage your team:
1. Compliment your team often
Tell them they’ve done something well. Congratulate them on a big win. Say it out loud or in an email —and do this all the time. What happens when you reward people with words only leads to a more motivated team. And they’ll continue to do their jobs well.
2. Ask for clarification and an explanation of what they’re doing
Ask questions, and pay attention to what your team is doing. How can this help? When people are asked to explain something that they’re either learning or processing, it can actually help them grasp the concept even better. When this exchange is done, it creates a teachable moment for everyone involved — including you, the leader.
3. Let them play with fire
Here’s the good news: Not everything will burn down if you give your team some freedom to play with fire. The other good news: Eventually your team will learn not to get burned (just like a two-year-old who touches a hot stove. It’s an a-ha kind of moment). No one likes the feeling of making a mistake, getting reminded or scolded for something they’re still learning. But when you allow your team to get close to the fire, be sure to let them know you’re also there to help with the burn. They’ll be better for it, and you might even learn something about yourself, too.
4. Demand opinions
When you’re making changes that will affect others, or if you’re deciding on something that will involve your team, get into the habit of asking for their input rather than just assuming everyone is going along with your one-person show because they’re too afraid to voice their opinion. Take a look at your company culture. Does everyone just agree with you? Has anyone ever said, “Hey, how about this?” I can assure you, though they don’t say it to your face, your employees definitely have opinions. Make an effort to open them up. True transparency cuts both ways. It may even involve a few cuts to your ego (see what I did there?), but it is worth it in the long run.
5. Walk away
Leave the room! This one’s for you, micromanagers. Allow your team to learn to lead without you hovering over them. Let them show integrity for the work they’re doing. After you’ve asked their opinions and let them explain how they work, leave the nest. If you have a strong company culture, you can be certain that if they have any questions, they’ll be open and honest and unafraid to come to you to ask. If you’re concerned that your proverbial office walls are too small for all the future big heads, then make more room. There’s plenty of space.
So, remember to compliment your team often — words of encouragement go a long way. Ask for explanations, because when they explain, they also learn. Let them play with fire so that they can learn from their mistakes. Demand opinions, because true transparency gives way to honesty and trust. And finally, leave the room — don’t micromanage. Following these tips will help you to successfully encourage, empower and engage your team.