Jack Zenger is an expert in leadership development. As co-founder and CEO of Zenger Folkman, a consulting and leadership development firm in Utah, he has authored several books on the topic, including the bestseller The Extraordinary Leader.
“I’ve always been really fascinated by what allows some people to be highly motivational and inspire others to work at a higher level,” he says. Here are his top 10 rules for becoming a great leader.
1. Ask instead of answer
“Don’t immediately give people the answer when they come to you with a question,” Zenger says. “Instead, ask them what they think. It is the leader’s job to develop his or her people. To just give them the answer is to have missed a real opportunity to show them that you respect them and their ideas.”
2. Give positive feedback
“Make sure your ratio of positive comments to challenging comments is at least five to one,” he says. “It is important to have positive interactions between you and your employees. The healthiest and most productive groups are ones where they are generally supportive and reinforcing and positive in their interactions.
“If you don’t agree with an idea, ask the idea generator to think about it and talk about how it would play out. This will force your team to think through their suggestions and see where their failings are. Remember, as a leader, you may not always be right.”
“When you come into your office in the morning, don’t turn on your computer until you have walked around the office and connected with people first,” Zenger suggests. “Leadership is all about motivating people, and motivating people is all about having a connection with them. There needs to be a bond."
“It is very easy to ignore your colleagues and go into your office and miss that opportunity to check in at the beginning of the day. There is real value in connecting with people and letting them know you care,” say Zenger.
4. Put employees first
“In every organization, there are four different constituencies: shareholders, senior managers, customers and employees,” he says. “We are seeing examples of organizations who have consciously made the decision to put employees first, customers second, shareholders third and managers last.
“If you treat the employee with great dignity and respect, they in turn will treat customers really well.”
5. Seek feedback
“Periodically, a manager should wander around their place of business, meet with an employee and ask, ‘Tell me something you think I don’t want to know and don’t want to hear,’” he advises. “It may take people a while to figure out that you are serious, but then, they will tell you. If you can be appreciative to what they say, you will learn some things that are extremely valuable about what is going on inside your organization."
“One thing managers and leaders have in short supply is truth. Things get filtered as they go up in the organization. You have to work to get accurate data. People will tell you if you ask.”
6. Be an example
“As a leader of an organization, you are the role model and people are watching you 24/7; you are never off-stage,” Zenger says. “If you want the organization to be responsive to customers, you have to be responsive to customers. If you want your people to maintain good working hours, you need to maintain good working hours.”
7. Practice self-development
“If you want your organization to perform at a high level and improve over time, you have to improve over time,” he says. “You need to practice self development and let the organization know you are working on planning more efficient meetings, making decisions more accurately and speedily, etc."
“You need to have a personal plan of development for yourself. If you do this, it provides a great example to everyone in the organization and says, ‘No matter who you are or where you are, you can get better. I am going to keep on getting better, therefore I expect everyone in the organization to do the same thing.’”
8. Delegate with purpose
“Make sure your people know that you are not only concerned about them getting their work done, but you are also concerned about them as a human being—about them growing in their career,” Zenger advises.
“One way to do that is to delegate an assignment and tell them the reason you’ve asked them to do the task is because it will help them and their professional development.”
9. Set stretch goals
“Nothing unites a group more than pursuing a lofty target,” he says. “Try setting a stretch goal for your team. There is enormous reward and satisfaction when achieving your goal. Just make sure it is reasonable. If the goal is unreasonable, it can be de-motivating.”
“The ability to listen well is at the heart of being a good leader,” Zenger notes. “Try removing distractions when you are speaking with someone, start making notes when they talk and pay attention to body language to get a real sense of their feelings.
“Try not to just listen to the words said, but really think about the message someone is trying to convey.”
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Katie Morell is Chicago-based writer and frequent OPEN Forum contributor. She regularly contributes business, feature and travel articles to national and regional publications.