It’s always the little things that keep you coming back, aren’t they? The grandiosity, pomp and fanfare of large-scale celebrations and ceremonies, for instance, certainly cast the biggest nets in terms of pulling in admiration from all and sundry. Yet the power of the humble small (but consistent) gesture is something else altogether, drawing warmth and heartfelt appreciation from the select (and lucky) few.
The same principle often applies to leadership. People tend to be much more moved by small, but consistently heartwarming leadership practices than the occasional but rare grand gesture. It comes down to the simple fact of authenticity: everyone want to feel valued and appreciated at work, and in ways that feel sincere and genuine, not forced and pompous.
Empathy, after all, is the most critical drivers of leadership success, according to a 2016 study conduct by leadership consulting firm DDI. The best leaders are those who are most willing and able to put themselves in their people’s shoes and understand their perspectives. In the end, though, there’s a stark contract between leaders who only pay lip service to practicing empathy and those who are genuinely committed to it—and small but consistent gestures can make all the difference in this regard.
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The central duty of leadership, ultimately, is growth and progress; those who find themselves at the helm of the ship are responsible both for steering in the right direction and for taking care of the well-being of the crew. Neither of this is possible, however, without the simple (yet radical) act of active listening.
The easiest way to have the greatest impact on your people, stakeholders, and customers alike, is to pay attention to and actively listen to them. Only by doing this can a leader find himself in the best position to provide them with what they need to thrive in their respective environments, and in so doing, create value for all.
The problem, though, is that active listening is a deceptively simple skill, because it requires setting yourself aside and giving the other person your fullest attention—much easier said than done. Bad listeners, for one, often think of themselves as relatively good listeners, and so many leaders today underestimate the crucial need to listen, preferring instead to be listened to.
The now-legendary story of how Doug Conant, former Campbell Soup CEO, brought the company back from the dead is simply remarkable. More than anything else, it’s Conant’s sheer dedication and sincerity in penning 30,000 thank-you notes to his employees over the span of his 10-year tenure as CEO that touches hearts everywhere.
Studies have shown that practicing gratitude in the workplace boosts productivity and motivation. Similar research indicates that employee recognition efforts, too, are proven to improve performance and employee retention rates. It’s not rocket science—feeling appreciated in itself cultivates positivity. The more seen and heard people feel, the more it feeds back into their engagement with their work and their interactions with the people around them.
It’s as simple as thanking an employee for their work—the more specific and personal the thank-you, the better. Instead of leaving thank-you’s to the annual company D&D or the year-end secret-Santa gift exchanges, consider the following:
An open-door policy alone is hardly enough to ensure the development of strong interpersonal relationships between leaders and co-workers. In the first place, no one will walk through that open door if they feel as though what they have to say will just be ignored (or worse, used against them later on.) Even dropping by people’s cubicles or desks from time to time isn’t nearly enough; a lot of the time, it can feel forced, inauthentic, and may even backfire if you yourself aren’t a good listener.
Devote enough time and energy regularly to forging strong, genuine, and personal bonds with your employees is critical to understanding each of them as individuals. Not only is it indispensable towards effective mentorship—after all, different things drive different people—it sends the message that you as a leader are totally committed to helping them achieve their highest potential in their careers.