There are literally thousands of leadership books available on the market today and many of them are wonderfully written and provide great insight. In my personal quest for lifelong learning, I’ve read a countless number of them from a wide variety of experts in the field of leadership. Along this journey, two common themes have emerged from the literature specific to effective leadership: self-awareness and relationship building skills.
Self-awareness is commonly associated with the concept of emotional intelligence that was brought forward to the leadership narrative by author Daniel Goleman. According to Goleman, self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence and is absolutely essential for effective leadership. Self-awareness involves knowing yourself, being honest with yourself and having a deep understanding of your emotions, strengths and weaknesses.
Most of us think we know ourselves well and believe that we understand our strengths and weaknesses. However, if you’ve ever been through a 360-degree feedback process you know that the opposite is often true. Leaders are generally not as self-aware as they perceive themselves to be. We’ve all witnessed the leader who perceives themselves one way, while the people who work for him/her have a completely different perception of them. If we can tap into the truth about our behavior, we will have a true edge and a greater chance at becoming effective leaders.
The best way to become more self-aware is by finding someone who will tell you the truth; the real truth, not the “truth” they think you want to hear nor the “truth” they believe will allow them to keep their jobs. Find someone who will “tell the emperor that he is not wearing any clothes;” perhaps a trusted colleague or a spouse or a friend. Humility is our best friend when it comes to being self-aware.
The second theme that emerges from all of the leadership literature is the value of relationship-building skills. This is a concept often taken for granted by those in leadership positions. Similar to self-awareness, relationship building is a skill that most people believe they do effectively. However, again, if you were to read a 360-degree evaluation or even an employee satisfaction survey, you may draw a different conclusion.
Admittedly, it is much more challenging to build effective relationships with employees the higher up in the organizational structure a leader moves. However, it is the leader who is able to remain open, approachable and in touch with all levels of employees who will achieve the most success.
We need our employees just as much as they need us to lead them. When we start to believe that employees are replaceable and that we are irreplaceable it is the time when we have set ourselves up to fail. The trite business language of “our employees are our most important assets” sounds lovely on a brochure or website, but if we as leaders don’t truly make an effort to build strong and effective relationships with our employees, we may find ourselves all alone.
Effective relationship building can be as simple as knowing your employees’ names, their spouse’s names and their children’s names. It is also helpful to know other things about the people who work for you, such as their hobbies or personal interests. And of course there is the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Employees long to be treated as though they matter, to feel that you value them and that they are important.
Effective leaders are able to parlay strong relationship building skills into trusting relationships with their employees. The late basketball coach John Wooden said it best: “Without trust between a team and leader, there really is no team at all—just a collection of individuals who don’t amount to much.”
Let us take our inspiration from Wooden. He was one of the most effective leaders, able to build mutually respectful relationships with his players. The results of the cohesive relationships he created won him and his team incredible success both on th basketball court and off.
We all know intellectually that self-awareness and relationship-building skills are essential to effective leadership. However, I challenge everyone to deeply reflect on these common sense factors and look inward to determine the truth about ourselves and how well we are performing in these areas. If our business results are not where we wish them to be, that may be our first clue as to how well we really are doing in these areas.