What makes a leader?
You can ask anyone this question, and you may get a different answer every time.
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 quality of all is their ability to effectively communicate with their subordinates.
Communicating effectively to those you supervise isn’t just speaking to them, it’s listening to them and actually hearing what they are saying to you. As a leader, professional and personal relationships should always be a top priority, not just something you feel like you have to do, but something you truly care about and want to do.
One of my mentors, retired Senior Master Sgt. Michael LaVanway, asked me these questions in regard to effective communication:
Do you know how many children your subordinate’s have or what their names are? Have you ever asked them about their spouse, or significant other? Do you know what motivates them?
If you can’t answer those simple questions, have you taken the time to learn about your subordinates and their wellbeing?
Although I wasn’t supervising anyone at the time, it really bothered me because I wasn’t sure I could answer all those questions. I believed I was a good supervisor, but this conversation opened my eyes to a whole new level of communication.
If you believe your subordinates aren’t paying attention, or if you feel communication isn’t an important trait in a leader, here’s an exercise for you with unimaginable results. The next time you ask one of your subordinates how their family is doing, try referring to their spouse and/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 canned response of “They’re good. Thanks.”