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The Leader's Role

Moving your team toward high self-esteem is the first step toward achieving high performance, which over time can lead to greatness. As a leader, the move toward greatness starts with the understanding that it is not about you. It is not so much about who you are—your position in the organization—but about what you do.

Consider our definition of self-esteem: the attitude to experience ourselves as competent to take on the challenges of life, accountable to ourselves and others, and worthy of success and happiness. With this definition in mind, consider how what you do as a leader can enhance the self-esteem of your team.

A leader’s words and actions can reinforce the conviction that every team member is competent, deserving of success, and important to the team. The following specific behaviors will support high performance in your team:

· Build your capacity to read and understand yourself and others (Emotional IQ): Learn to perceive your emotions and stay aware of them as they occur. Make a conscious effort to be aware of the feelings and reactions of those around you. Proactively create more positive connections with people.

· When a team member talks with you, be present: Make eye contact, listen actively, offer appropriate feedback, and give each speaker the experience of being heard. Be empathetic: Let the speaker know that you understand feelings as well as statements. This lets people know you take them seriously.

· No matter who you are speaking to, maintain a tone of respect: Do not speak in in a condescending, superior, sarcastic, or blaming tone.

· Keep work encounters task-centered, not ego-centered: Never permit a dispute to deteriorate into a conflict of personalities. The focus needs to be on the facts. What is the situation? What does the work require? What needs to be done?

· Give team members opportunities to practice self-responsibility: Give them space to take the initiative, volunteer ideas, attempt new tasks, and expand their range.

· Speak to enhance a team members’ understanding: Give reasons for rules and guidelines when they are not self-evident. Explain why you cannot accommodate certain requests; ­Avoid simply handing down orders from on high.

· If you make a mistake in your dealings with someone, and if you are unfair or short-tempered, admit it and apologize: It is not beneath your dignity to admit taking an action you now regret.

· Invite team members to give you feedback about the kind of leader you are: “You are the kind of leader your people say you are.” Check it out, and let your people see that you are open to learning and self-correction. Set an example of non-defensiveness. This is a great way to make “feedback” the norm for your team.

· Let team members see that it is safe to make a mistake or say, “I don’t know, but I will find out:” Fear of error or ignorance invites deception, self-consciousness, and an end to creativity.

· Let team members see it is safe to disagree with you: Show respect for differences of opinion. Do not punish those who disagree.

· Describe undesirable behavior without blaming: Tell your team members what kind of behavior is expected and the consequences if behavior is or becomes unacceptable. Refrain from character assassination.

· If someone does superior work or makes an excellent decision, invite the person to explore how it happened: Do not limit yourself simply to praise. By asking appropriate questions, help raise the person’s knowledge about what made the achievement possible, which will increase the likelihood the behavior will be repeated in the future.

· If someone does unacceptable work or makes a bad decision, practice the previous principle: Do not limit yourself to corrective feedback. Invite an exploration of what made the error possible―which will raise the level of understanding and minimize the likelihood of repeating it in the future. Help the person “own the mistake, correct it, learn from it, and move on.”

· Provide clear performance standards: Let people understand your nonnegotiable expectations regarding the quality of work.

· Praise in public and correct in private: Acknowledge achievements within the hearing of as many people as possible, but let each person absorb corrections in the safety of privacy.

· Let your praise be realistic: Like parents who give over-the-top praise for their children’s every accomplishment, you weaken your positive acknowledgments if they are not in line with the reality of what has been accomplished.

· When someone’s behavior creates a problem, ask the person to propose a solution: Avoid handing down solutions. Give the problem to the responsible party, thereby encouraging responsibility, self-assertiveness, and self-awareness.

· As often as possible, make it clear that you are interested in solutions, not blaming, and be the example of this policy: When you look for solutions, confidence grows; when you blame, confidence is weakened.

· Remember that a great leader is not one who comes up with brilliant solutions, but one who encourages brilliant solutions from others. A leader is a coach and enabler, not a problem solver for admiring children.

· Educate your team to see problems as challenges and opportunities: This perspective is clearly shared by high achievers and people with high self-confidence. Model this attitude through your words and actions.

· Support talented individuals: Effective teamwork is necessary, but there should also be a place for brilliant people who move to their own beat; team players benefit from a respect for individuality.

· Make it a point to look for an opportunity to try out each of the listed items in a work situation. After the interaction, write down what went well and what was effective. Then think about what could be improved. As you consciously try, critique and improve on each, you will find your effectiveness as a leader measurably improving. In time these behaviors will become your natural leadership style.

These suggestions are not novel. Most leaders are already aware of them, at least in theory. The challenge is to weave these behaviors into the fabric of your daily life, making them a seamless part of your interactions with others. Leaders who can do this become champions for a great place to work with strong, sustainable results in safety, quality, efficiency and profit.

Ken Chapman,

Co-Author of Safety Beyond the Numbers

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