“What are the most important things that a leader can do?”
— Wondering in Wichita
I’m going to give you four different ways of thinking about what the most important things you as a manager or leader need to do. We’ll cover the first one today, and then the other three over the next few weeks, so watch for those.
My favorite quote in the world is by Max de Pree, who says, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the leader is a debtor and a servant.”
I want to concentrate on that very first line – the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality … over and over and over again. Begin every conversation you have with your people around defining reality. What is it that we know? What is it that we don’t know? Start to set guardrails with every conversation you have by saying what is possible and what is not possible. When you start there, you avoid the rabbit holes that tend to happen in conversations with folks who have the best of intentions, but who may lead you (as an empathetic leader) down a path that doesn’t really go anywhere. So, start off all your conversations with this is what we know, this is what we don’t know.
Next, be prepared to listen … a LOT. One of the main characteristics of a leader, in this day and age, is to be a good listener – to listen to what is being said. I want you to master the “chicken head” response (watch the video for a demonstration) and really take into account what people have to say, as they are. We’re going talk more in one of the next Best Boss Minutes, about listening to what they have to say and then directing it appropriately so you have productive conversations.
In summary, here are your three touchpoints:
- Start every conversation with a reality check.
- Set guardrails – what you know/what is possible and what you don’t know/what is not possible.
- Listen… A LOT.