If you think your most important job as a leader is to write mission statements, set goals, or even increase revenue, you’re focusing on the wrong metrics. Your most significant role doesn’t involve your results; your job is to inspire your employees’ results, says Richard S. Wellins, co-author of Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best In Others.
"As a leader your focus changes; your number one priority is to bring out the best in others," says Wellins, who is senior vice president at management consulting firm DDI.
A study done by DDI and Harris Interactive found that 98% of employees who have good leaders are motivated to do their best, while only 11% of employees with ineffective managers felt motivated to give their best.
Being able to bring out the best in others is a skill that involves just 10% natural inclination; the other 90% has to be deliberate, says Wellins: "It can’t be learned by listening to a lecture or reading examples," he says. "It needs to be practiced, reinforced, and used day to day."
Here are six of their daily habits:
Good leaders identify the strengths of individual team members and give employees opportunities to use them, says Wellins. "They cultivate and optimize others’ talents and capabilities," he says.
While some strengths will be obvious, good leaders schedule one-on-one meetings and ask questions such as, "What do you enjoy doing most as part of your work?" and "What do you miss most about the jobs you’ve had in the past and why?"
Leaders who bring out the best in others listen to what team members are saying and put themselves in their shoes, says Wellins. When dealing with an emotional situation, listening and responding with empathy can immediately reduce tension, and until things calm down, nothing productive can occur.
"Empathy will drive better performance; this is a huge motivator," says Wellins.
People who bring out the best in others also reward and recognize good work. Leaders often worry that praise will seem unprofessional or that employees will become complacent or overconfident.
"It isn’t and they won’t," says Wellins. "It’s about making a person feel good about themselves even when they feel challenged or are in tough times.."
This is also important when things are going well, adds Wellins. "It’s so simple, but our research shows that one- to two-thirds of leaders are not good at acknowledging good work," he says.
Liz Wiseman, author of Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work, calls leaders who bring out the best in others "multipliers." She says multipliers look for talent everywhere and focus on finding people, at whatever level, who know the things they don’t.
"Multipliers take the time to understand the capabilities of each individual so that they can connect employees with the right people and the right opportunities—thereby building a virtuous cycle of attraction, growth, and opportunity," she writes in an article for Harvard Business Review.
Bringing out the best in others means delegating. "Good managers are careful to not micromanage," says Wellins. "Their job is to assign or direct general goals in work that needs to be done but they should never do it for the person."
Stretch goals that push people can have a big impact on how people feel about themselves, their work, and what they can accomplish, says Wellins. "Appeal to their strengths and give them responsibility and they will achieve their goals," he says.
As team members earn small wins, their confidence grows and seemingly insurmountable problems appear less daunting, adds Wiseman; roadblocks become interesting puzzles for the team to solve.
"Multipliers see themselves as coaches and teachers," writes Wiseman. "These leaders put a high premium on self-sufficiency: Once they delegate a task or decision, they don’t try to take it back."
People who bring out the best in others give people permission to think, speak, and act with reason, says Wiseman.
"They generate an intensity that demands high-level work from the team, but they also have a high tolerance for mistakes and understand the importance of learning along the way," she writes. "So they create mental spaces in which people can flourish."