Everyone has different ideas of what a great leader looks like. Some great leaders are strong and forceful, others are sensitive and compassionate, and still others are direct and powerful.
While certain aspects of leadership remain universally true, your employees may desire other leadership qualities. What are the traits employees universally look for in a true leader?
As it turns out, most of the traits employees look for in leaders are the same traits they hold in the highest esteem for themselves. Back in June 2018, a workplace consultancy called The Predictive Index did a survey of more than 5,000 people to find out what makes a great boss. Their results show that characteristics like self-awareness, humility, passion, and patience are all values employees look for in great leaders and traits they look to emulate themselves.
How do you cultivate these traits? Take the following five key concepts to heart and you will ensure that your business will flourish, and your employees will consider you to be a great leader.
Employees want a leader's respect
Don’t underestimate the power of respect, especially when it comes to traits that employees look for in a leader. A recent study by the Harvard Business Review found that respect is what employees most want from a leader. In fact, having a leader's respect delivers the best outcomes across the five categories the study examined: health and well-being, trust and safety, enjoyment and satisfaction, focus and prioritization, and meaning and significance. The biggest takeaway is that employees who feel respected by their bosses end up being 55 percent more engaged at work.
So how do you develop respect as a leader? First, you need to become self-aware. Know where your shortcomings and blind spots are. Once you are aware of these, work to continually improve them using feedback from trusted advisors, mentors, and coworkers to adjust your behavior.
To make your employees feel respected, you must listen to them. This means developing awareness around your listening habits and practicing behaviors to improve those habits. Do you interrupt your employees when they are talking? Do you constantly steamroll past topics you don't want to discuss? Rely on your network of trusted advisors and mentors to help identify places to improve your listening skills.
Finally, to ensure that your employees feel respected, it's crucial to continually take time to reflect on your own behavior and learn from any mistakes you may make. Each human interaction is an opportunity for learning and improving, and if you approach your work life with curiosity and interest, your employees are sure to feel respected.
Employees want to feel heard
A 2016 study by the leadership training provider Dale Carnegie showed that 88 percent of those surveyed value being heard by their bosses. The simple act of listening to your employees can provide a wellspring of respect and can also make employees more likely to stick with your company when the going gets tough.
Why? Employees who feel like part of a team that offers respect and listens to one another will often stick around even during tough times because they feel valued. When employees don’t feel heard, the internal brand of the company plummets, and you risk losing some of your best people.
Listening is just good business. If you listen to the variety of voices and opinions your employees have, you may discover innovative solutions or opportunities that otherwise may not have surfaced.
So how do you develop your listening skills? First, quiet that inner dialogue. Make sure you are fully present when someone is speaking. To create that kind of space, schedule a set amount of time (even 30 minutes will do wonders!) to reflect and get your own thoughts down on paper. Brainstorm solutions and write notes about next steps so that you can get the bigger things off your mind and dedicate your time and energy to listening to your employees’ needs.
Second, respect people's time, including yours. If a conversation gets off topic or wanders, get it back on topic and keep it there. By setting limits on topics and discussion time, you show your employees that you respect what they have come to say, and you respect the time they have committed. You also keep your own schedule on track and demonstrate that you not only respect everyone else’s time, but you also respect your own.
Employees want honesty
Honesty serves as a gateway for trust, respect, and inspiration. Doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing will earn you respect from your employees, and it sets a fantastic example for them to follow.
In today's work environment, employees are very capable of sniffing out untruths and fluff. If you lie to, coddle or tell half-truths to your workforce, you are likely to do irreparable damage to your reputation as a leader and your company's brand as a whole.
So how do you cultivate honesty? Tell the truth even when it’s not very pretty. Admitting when you are wrong isn’t a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. Remember, we are all human, and we all make mistakes. Opening up about your vulnerabilities makes you relatable and shows that you can be honest even when it’s not very pretty.
Employees want you to follow through
Just like honesty, following through on commitments you make as a leader is absolutely vital to employees. By making and keeping promises, you demonstrate that you are a reliable and trustworthy leader. You set an example for the team as well.
Failing to follow through on a commitment can be as damaging as telling an outright lie. Once you demonstrate that you just give lip service to something, it may take years to gain that lost ground back. By following through on your commitments, you foster an environment of respect and value that trickles throughout an organization.
Employees want to feel valued
Giving credit where credit is due is one of the key things that great leaders do. Not every great idea comes from the c-suite, and success in business always takes a collective effort. By ensuring that your employees get the accolades they deserve, you create an environment where people feel valued for their opinions, thoughts, and ideas.
A leader who points out the successes of their staff stands to reap the gains of respect and admiration from their employees. Sharing the wealth of good news (as well as bad) is always a good idea if you want to be a great leader. By recognizing their teams’ achievements, great leaders encourage both competition and collaboration among team members because they strive to improve their own performance and rise to the good examples provided. When you call out the achievements of the team, you raise the collective up, and your business will flourish.
These are the five core characteristics employees actually look for in a leader. By continuing to develop your own leadership skills and style, you foster these traits and help create an environment of respect and trust. You also ensure that your employees will want to stick with you through thick and thin. It’s great leadership and even better business.