Listen carefully, ask questions, and always try to be gracious and grateful. As you do so, you’ll be leading your team by example towards a better life.
I’ve never met a person that wasn’t in some way trying to get better. In fact, 94% of millennials reported making regular commitments to personal improvement—even going so far as to say they’d be willing to spend nearly $300 a month on self-improvement.
In your lifetime, you will spend about 90,000 hours at work. It makes sense, then, that the drive towards self-betterment would extend to the office as well. Your company may offer benefits like an education budget, or ongoing training in the office, but there are actually small, regular things that you can do on your own for free. They’re not going to get you coding like a mastermind or building your own mobile application, but they will make you a better person in and out of the cubicle.
The best way to learn something is to ask. Your team is likely not made of carbon copies of a single individual. Define the things that are important to each of your individual team members’ and ask about them. These questions won’t be the same for everyone. Maybe one of your team members runs an Instagram business on the side. Maybe one of them has a partner that has just undergone surgery. These are the types of things that you should be mentally cataloging and asking about when you can.
When you remember these details about a person, you are showing them that you care about them outside of their individual role at your company. They are more than just a cog to you.
Not only that but talking about yourself feels good. According to one study, when people are able to talk about themselves, it activates the same areas of the brain that light up when eating good food and partaking in other pleasurable activities. It gives us a neurological buzz that lasts for some time afterward. When you ask your employees meaningful, detailed questions, you give them that gift. You also build deeper, more lasting relationships.
Listen to answers
After you ask, make sure to actually listen. When most people think of listening, they think of the act of having their ears open while someone is talking—but usually, they’re also already thinking of their own response. Active listening is a bit different:
The key part of active listening is engaging in the conversation without thinking about what you’re going to say next. So, when you start to let your mind meander to the next part of the conversation, come back to the moment and listen instead of trying to always be one step ahead.
This helps in both your personal and professional lives by allowing you to gain deeper insights into the motivations of others. By knowing more about what someone cares about, you can advocate for them and partake in meaningful coaching and conversation.
As the leader of a team, it can be easy to take credit for the work that your team does. You can assume that they are such high performers because you are such an excellent manager. The same happens in life outside of work: your child succeeds in school, your pet fish survives a year, your relationships remain healthy—these are all things that it can be tempting to take credit for.
Instead of automatically assuming that these types of successes can be attributed back to you, try to find ways to be grateful for the successes of others. This could look like: publicly recognizing a team member or friend for an excellent experience, giving your pet fish a treat, or thanking your partner or direct report for their thoughtfulness and care.
Gratitude makes the person receiving it feel good, but it’s also beneficial for the giver. Studies have shown that both giving and receiving gratitude for something activates the hypothalamus. Your hypothalamus triggers a number of important things, such as hunger and thirst, but also regulates functions like sleeping, anxiety, and your emotional mood. So, practicing gratitude makes you (and those around you) happier, more healthfully functioning individuals.
Assume positive intent
It’s tempting to automatically assume that someone who’s done something wrong was trying to do so willfully.
For example, if someone cuts you off in traffic, it feels more straightforward to assume that they were being careless and weren’t looking where they were going. But what if instead of defaulting to the negative, you tried to reframe it to understand what else might be going on.
For instance, maybe that person is going to the hospital. Doesn’t that reframe it in your mind? You go from being angry that they cut you off to being concerned about them. This is a much better attitude, in general, and helps you get way farther than assuming that everyone is out to get you.
In fact, it’s so valuable that when the Chairman and CEO of Pepsi Co. was asked for her best leadership advice, it’s what she said.
When you look for positive intent, you give people the benefit of the doubt and you give yourself the chance to learn the details of the situation. Not only does that allow you to educate yourself and grow as a person, but it gives the other person in the interaction time to explain. You may be surprised how often you learn something that you hadn’t expected and get to be reassured that the members of your team are just as committed, competent, and on top of the situation as you’d want them to be.
Lead, don’t manage
Leading and managing are two different sides of the same coin. To be successful, you’ll regularly need to be able to read a situation and flip from one to the other.
Forbes explains this fundamental difference as “leaders have a bias to influencing by inspiring and enabling through advice and counsel and co-creation, while managers have a bias to command and control, organizing, coordinating and telling.”
In general, a good leader will have both of these aspects in their strategy. Learn to recognize when you are being more of a manager (and if it’s necessitated by the situation), and when you are being a better leader. This self-awareness will help you in the business world by better enabling you to “turn it on” or “turn it off” as needed and will help you in skills outside of the office such as helping your friends with personal problems, parenting, or dealing with your partner.
Read between the lines
All of these skills focus on interpersonal relationships and self-awareness, so it should come as no surprise that the last piece of advice that we have is something that also follows on that continuum.
Learn to seek things outside of your direct view. In personal relationships, if someone comes to you and seems frustrated and angry, you would usually try to figure out why. Instead of just assuming things at face value, you might try to dig a bit deeper to see if there’s something underlying. In a personal example, this might mean that they’re complaining about your socks being on the ground, but actually what they are angry about is that they are the person responsible for doing the laundry, and they feel resentful about the extra work.
Professionally, it’s much the same. Listen to what your team members say when they are talking to you, whether positively or constructively. For instance, imagine one of your colleagues thanking you for your recognition of their performance. What they might actually be saying is “thank you for taking the time to post in our Slack channel about my performance. Public recognition is important to me, and it felt good for you to do that.”
When you read between the lines and start to interpret patterns like this, it helps you to willfully integrate them into your communication strategy moving forward. You start to learn about people’s professional love languages.
It doesn’t take much to be a good person, but it also doesn’t take much to try to be a better manager. By implementing these practices into your everyday life, you’ll see a boost in both your personal and professional relationships as well as the output and function of your teams.
Listen carefully, ask questions, and always try to be gracious and grateful. As you do so, you’ll be leading your team by example towards a better, more regulated life.