What makes a leader? You can ask anyone this question, and every time you’ll get a different answer.
When I think of the great leaders I’ve had the honor and privilege to work with, I think of all the similar traits and qualities they shared. The most important is their ability to effectively communicate with subordinates.
I believe for someone to be an effective leader they must be able to communicate with their subordinates. Now communication isn’t just speaking to them; it’s listening and actually hearing what they’re saying to you. As a leader and professional, personal relationships should always be a top priority and not just something you feel you have to do. It should be something you truly care about and want to do.
Ret. Senior Master Sgt. Michael LaVanway, one of my mentors, asked me the following questions in regard to effective communication:
- Do you know how many children your subordinates have and what their names are?
- Do you know what motivates them?
- Have you ever asked them about their spouse or significant other?
If you can’t answer those simple questions, do you truly care about your subordinates and their wellbeing?
Now even though I wasn’t supervising anyone at the time, it really hit me because I wasn’t sure I could answer all those questions, which really bothered me. Until this conversation, I believed I was a good supervisor, which I still believed I was, however, this opened my eyes to another level of communication.
If you believe your subordinates aren’t paying attention, don’t care or if you feel communication isn’t an important trait in a leader, here’s a little exercise for you that can reap unimaginable results. The next time you ask one of your subordinates how their family is doing, try referring to their spouse or children by their first name. That little touch of personalization will add sincerity to your question and give the person an indication that you truly are concerned and interested in them. This will facilitate more than the typical response of, “They’re good. Thanks.”