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We respect your hustle.
The key to being a great leader is to be more human. Connect with your employees in the same way you might connect with friends and family. Be vulnerable and honest. Get your hands dirty to help out those who need it most. Being a great leader is about reciprocity. The more of a real relationship you build with your employees, the more they will feel cared about and the more they will care about you. If you care about their visions and dreams, they will care about yours. If you help them do better, they will return the favor.
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A Globally Recognized Leader
In an article by The Atlantic, Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, is touted as potentially being the most effective leader in the world. As my job consists largely of talking to business owners about what "leadership" should be in their organizations, I wanted to use this article as an example of why it's easier than we're often lead to believe.
I've worked for many large corporations, including world-renowned, Fortune 100 companies. During my time, I've seen leaders of every type and talked to many people about their leadership needs and desires. I have seen leaders who embody the very word and I've seen people who only have the title and that power immediately goes to their head - and I've seen every type of leader in between.
As a US citizen, I've also had my fair share of leaders who - much like in most organizations - not only lacked any true leadership skills, but also weren't chosen by the people they were hired to lead.
So, with those details as context, what is it about Jacinda that makes her leadership praiseworthy?
Relying on the Experts
When COVID-19 was first announced as a global pandemic, New Zealand not only responded quickly, but they responded in the best way they knew how. Autonomy and trust were given to medical experts who best knew how to handle the many responsibilities of dealing with this situation.
In organizations as well, leaders do not always have all the answers. It is not the responsibility of a leader to know everything, but rather to know who knows what. One sign of a great leader is being able to say, "You know this topic better than I do. What should we do?" It casts aside ego and power and makes room for trust and responsibility to grow. It gives people an opportunity to do more, to make a bigger impact, and to be recognized for their unique talents. Plus, relying on experts means you will have a better product or outcome, so it's a win-win for everyone.
Communication and Empathy
When New Zealand announced its lockdowns, Jacinda delivered the message personally via video. She proactively addressed the confusion and fear and let everyone know what the plan was. She acknowledged the stress and frustration that would come with not being able to leave your home and socialize. She offered helpful tips and insight into how families and neighbors could make the most of this isolating time. She explained the necessity for everyone to work together to squash the outbreak quickly so they could return to normal life. She announced bills that would help people stay afloat when they couldn't work.
Organizations can do this as well and it is extremely beneficial to do so. At some point, every business has to make difficult decisions. When that happens, treat your employees like citizens. Take the idea of getting rid of them (i.e., layoffs) off the table. They are here to stay and you need them to be happy and healthy. Put yourself in their shoes. Do all you can to understand where they stand, how they will be affected, and why they might be afraid. Communicate early and often so there are no surprises. Show them empathy so they know you care about them not just as employees, but as human beings.
In every example I've come across of companies who choose not to lay off their employees, the employees themselves help come up with solutions and workarounds. Plus, once the troubling times are over, it's far more effective to get back to work with all your loyal employees still around instead of having to hire and train all new staff who know from day one that they will be removed at the first sign of danger.
Jacinda has regularly livestreamed with her citizens using the same social media every other person does, in her home, wearing the same clothes we all do. She has done national announcements with a dirty shirt and a baby in her arm. She talked about her personal bubble of people whom she was able to safely interact with and what she did to stay occupied while cooped up at home. In those moments, she wasn't just a Prime Minister, she was a leader, because she was in the same boat as everyone else. She not only showed that she was no better than anyone, she revealed that she wasn't willing to use her power and influence to skirt the rules or live above the restrictions put in place. She was also vulnerable, showing herself exactly as she is when stuck at home.
Leaders in organizations can do this as well. It's hard to feel like I am an equal part of a team when my billionaire CEO has and never will be weighed down by daily life stresses like the rest of us. It's difficult to feel like I am valued when the organization spends more money on a one day party than it does for my entire team's annual salary. When I am working hard and all of leadership is on a week-long retreat, I don't feel like we are part of the same team.
All my favorite and most impactful leaders in every job were the ones who I felt were in the trenches with me. When work got crazy, they were right there helping the team to get it under control. When they were having a hard time in life, they let me know. They were honest and real with me. That made me respect them more and made me be willing to put in even more effort to see their visions come to fruition.
This is normally where the conclusion would be.
Replacing tradition with efficiency is kind of our thing.