As a leader, you’re trying to create an impact by striving for exceptional results.
During this journey, your team members should understand the purpose of your team. Why does this team exist? Or, if you want to go macro, why does this company exist?
Surprisingly, many leaders are unable to answer this question. A recent survey found that 55% of corporate employees cannot answer the question ‘why their team exists?’ clearly.
Unclear Purpose Cause Problems
If team members are not clear on the purpose of their team, they will invent their own purpose. They will end up planning and doing the work according to their own purpose, which may or may not be in sync with the broader agenda. As a result, the team, as a whole, ends up with directionless work and low productivity.
Being the leader, you owe it to yourself, your immediate team, and to your broader team to articulate your team’s purpose.
Clarity of Purpose is the Leader’s Responsibility
Clarify your team’s purpose so that everybody’s clear. Each team member should understand it, and at the same time, they should be able to articulate your team’s purpose to anyone.
This is not to say that you hire a branding expert to craft a mission statement.
Use simple, clear, and pragmatic English to explain why your team exists.
If it makes people scratch their heads, then you’ve failed.
Clarity of purpose leads to work that’s aligned to that purpose. You get more leverage, you increase your chances of hitting your goals, and most importantly, your team becomes more engaged and collaborative. Clarity of purpose drives individual performances and team performances.
If you’re a trusted advisor, you’ve gained the credibility and trust of your customers and stakeholders. Trusted advisors are very influential, and they can advise their stakeholders and help them make critical decisions. In a world where trust is hard to come by, being a trusted advisor is rare, precious, and it’s commendable. That’s why most trusted advisors are also successful leaders in their organizations.
Being a trusted advisor applies to so many roles. As a sales leader, you could be a trusted advisor to customer prospects or leads. If you were in customer success, you could be a trusted advisor to your customers. Management consultants can be a trusted advisor to their clients. A project leader could be a trusted advisor to their stakeholders.
Who wouldn’t want to be a trusted advisor!
How to be a Trusted Advisor
Be that as it may, you can’t just cast yourself into the role of a trusted advisor. It’s something that you earn through your actions and results. What really counts is perception of you as a trusted advisor. So here are some ways that you can earn the coveted trusted advisor status.
Provide subject matter expertise. This is important because by providing subject matter expertise, you’re providing unique value to your customers and your stakeholders.
Demonstrate empathy. When someone approaches you for advice, you should be able to walk in their shoes and understand their point of view. Empathy will better equip you to understand their unique situation.
Put your stakeholders’ interests above your own interests. This is perhaps the best way to demonstrate that you are in it for that customer or stakeholder, and not just for your own reasons.
Provide new, transformative ideas and solutions. This is similar to providing subject matter expertise, but now you’re taking it a notch above, and you’re actually contributing real value.
Continue providing value at all stages and establish a personal relationship with those who seek your advice. Your relationship is built on top of the value that you’re providing.
Trusted Advisors Do Not Misuse Trust
By working on these five things, you can establish a trusted advisor relationship with your customers and all other stakeholders. As Uncle Ben once told Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Ensure that you never misuse your trusted advisor relationship for furthering your own agenda. Acting on selfish motives will not only damage your trusted advisor status but will actually hurt your personal brand.
Being a trusted advisor is a beautiful thing. Earn that status with your customer. Keep delivering value and never take it for granted.
There are two different scenarios for you to move to a new career opportunity:
When you want to make the change. This happens when you understand that this is the right time to move on in order to learn new opportunities.
The other scenario is when the market wants you. In this scenario, the market is valuing your skills, expertise, and experience.The companies might be pinging you on LinkedIn, and recruiters might be calling you.
In the second scenario, there is a chance for you to feel like you are not really ready for your next jump. If you ever feel like that, always rethink that. Think twice or thrice.
Opportunities are always created in the market. Market forces decide when certain skills are going to be in demand. So, when the market is calling you, you must pay attention. Because when the market is calling you, it means that your skills and experience are in demand.
And, when the market forces call you, it might be your big leadership break. You can negotiate better. You will be in the driver’s seat in that process.
One of the ways to build your brand within the organization is by creating currency. No, we’re not talking about the Federal Reserve. Let’s say you help executive A and provide some value. Then you’ve built currency with that person, and you’ve made a small currency deposit.
Building Network Internally and Externally
Over time, you can build currency with many people within as well as outside of your organization. Here are some ways for you to create that currency with others.
Respond to requests for help. You may come across emails, text messages, or IMs across your organization, asking for help. They may be asking, “Hey, can you help me with this task / this activity / this project?” That’s your opportunity to throw your hat in the ring and say, “Yes, I would love to help with that.”
Help even if you are not being asked for help. Sometimes you can ask the question, “How can I help?” Your colleagues will appreciate your proactiveness.
Ask for help. Asking for help creates currency because it provides others an opportunity to contribute. It gives others a chance to demonstrate their expertise, and it helps them shine a light on their brand. You are thus creating currency for others even though it’s you that’s asking for help.
Establishing currency with others is a great way to develop your brand and build your professional network internally and externally. Start small but keep placing those strategic bets over a while. They will not only grow but also compound over time.
One plus one equals three because you took the time to place those bets, and you established that currency.
The stock market is touching all-time highs, which makes it an expensive area to enter into now. Real estate is already expensive and Bitcoin is still very speculative. With their low rate of returns, savings accounts in banks are also out of the picture.
So, where should you invest that extra money in your hand? $2K, $5K, $50K, or $100K, it really doesn’t matter. The question is where to put this money to get maximum returns?
The best investment you can make right now is in yourself. There are many ways to accomplish this.
Take that training you’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Attend an industry conference or go ahead and pursue that MBA or any other university education.
Better yet, invest in your health – hire a trainer, create a diet plan and join a gym.
Maybe start a side hustle? Chances are, over time, this side hustle could become your main hustle.
If you don’t feel like doing any of the above, just take a sabbatical to discover yourself. Sounds cliched, but there’s a reason every ‘guru’ out there recommends this. It works.
There are so many options to invest in yourself. Don’t restrict yourself to just one. Do many and do it well. One thing is for sure – you can never go wrong by choosing to invest in yourself. So, what are you going to invest in next?
The only constant in our work lives today is change. Leaders are going gaga over driving change – creating something new, improving existing things, making things better.
As a leader, if you are not driving change, that means you are maintaining the status quo. The longer you maintain that status quo, the higher the risk. If you become a legacy or more obsolete, something could be disrupted down the road.
Instead of maintaining the status quo, it is far better and far more valuable to figure out what can you improve. What can you create something new? What can you build? And once you figure it, make it happen for the environment around you, for your teams, for your stakeholders, and for your customers.
What are you planning to do today? What are you planning to change today? And how are you going to make that happen?
You get ready, commute to work, and you walk into the office. You got meetings, assignments, work, projects, products, customers, employees, colleagues, and so much more to take care of. And once you get done with the day, you commute back, rinse and repeat for the next day.
This pattern continues and over a period of time, it probably becomes repeatable. And if it becomes too monotonous, then atrophy sets in and your creativity starts to diminish.
What should be done when you detect this?
Be prepared for a pattern interrupt when you see these symptoms appear for the very first time. A pattern interrupt is a way to disrupt the repeated nature of your work with an activity or an event. It must be something so extreme that it will break you free of those repeated work cycles.
These activities could be anything from going on a long hike to something way more adventurous. Or at work, you can have off-sites that involve intense team activities that break this pattern.
When you do these types of a pattern interrupt, you will make some drastic changes – both physical and mental. And this unlocks changes within you so that it creates more productivity. It fires up your neurons for more creativity, and it gives you more ideas and opportunities to have more innovation in the workplace.
It is so important for our teams to have a collaborative environment where they can bring their best to the table, create value, help each other, and play to their strengths. There are a lot of times when we have to create this collaborative environment. Especially when you’re working with a brand-new team from some other function within the company or working with new customers.
Collaboration Can Help Team Members Play to Each Other’s Strengths
There’s a lot of M&A going on in the corporate world. Companies buying other companies with total cash, cashless stock, or leveraged buyouts. Now it becomes challenging in these scenarios for all of these teams to work together, especially when there are new teams involved. The reason for that is because these new teams may not know each other, and they may not know each other’s work styles.
A stranger is a friend that you just don’t know yet. You owe it to your team and yourself to create a collaborative environment with this new team. A collaborative environment will help you to play to each other’s strengths, creating more value and help your organization drive better business results.
Here’s a quick framework that will help you establish a collaborative environment. It is called T.E.L.L.S.
Transparency: The first one is about transparency. You have to be transparent; no passive-aggressive behavior. Put everything on the table and make sure we cover each other’s blind spots and take care of each other.
Empathy: The next one is making sure we exercise empathy, to understand others’ perspectives. We walk a little bit in other people’s shoes to understand how they’re feeling, what they’re going through and where they’re coming from. This is very important to establish that connection that allows you to understand each other better.
Listening: Listening is not just the process of hearing what the other person has to say verbatim, but also seeking to understand. One hack that can be used is to listen with the assumption that everything that you know is wrong. This makes you more alert and your ears perk up. You capture everything the other person is saying and you become more knowledgeable.
Learn: The new team you’re going to be working with has its own character; they have a lot of strengths, and they bring a lot to the table. You owe it to yourself to make sure you not only understand what they’re sharing but also learn from it.
Sharing: Once you’ve learned this, make sure you share. You share the knowledge, the resources, and the tools from your team that will help this new team do a better job. Share as if you’re giving a gift, not just for the sake of it. Share because it creates a virtuous cycle of collaboration.
You help the other teams, and other teams help, creating a virtual cycle. With this framework, you can not only create a collaborative environment for your team, but you can also establish it as a best practice for the rest of the organization.
Most people or coaches are interested in moving to the next level. They want to accept higher levels of responsibilities and create more value. That’s great because the world needs more ambitious and passionate leaders. But then the conversation quickly turns to promotion; getting to the next level.
There are many parts to this answer. But here are some of the most important and simplest part:
You get promoted by demonstrating performance at the next level. Let’s say you are a Director. You want to make it to the Vice President. You should demonstrate through your actions, results, and your personal branding that you are already growing as a VP.
In fact, the demonstration of your performance should be so strong that people should be already assuming you to be the next Vice President. Before that, there are a couple of things that need to happen.
First is that you should already be doing a great job at your current level. Next is for you to understand what the expectations of that next level are. Once you understand what those expectations are, it becomes clear what you need to do in order to achieve that promotion.
Demonstrate performance at the next level with your action, with your results, and with your branding.
Empathy is critical for any leader. It is a skill that helps you better understand customers, stakeholders, and team dynamics. The insights you receive from having empathy enable you to solve problems efficiently, allowing you, as a leader, to deliver great results.
Empathetic leadership is the most appreciated leadership style today, simply because an empathetic leader has more than his own perspective. This empowers him with flexibility compared with the rigidity tough leaders display. Leaders like Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, are shining examples of how well empathetic leadership works.
Empathy is not a skill that can be developed overnight. If it were, it would have been so easy, and slightly not so special. For most of us, it takes a lot of work. Here are five ways you can develop your empathy muscle:
Develop curiosity about the people and the organizations that you’re involved with, even if you are looking at a process or customer experience or a strategy. Have genuine interest in what is going on around you. When you’re curious about how others solve a particular problem or what approaches someone else takes, you begin to understand their point of view. And once you understand that, developing empathy is not so far away.
Remove Your Biases
Every one of us has biases. We might be influenced or conditioned to think in a certain manner or have a certain opinion by the environment we’ve been in for so many years. And if you think you don’t have any biases, it is more than likely that you’re wrong. It is often good to think more deeply about something – think once, twice or more – to ensure that your bias isn’t at work when you make a major decision. Make this a practice and slowly, you will learn to think objectively. The more you distance yourself from your biases, the better you become in developing empathy.
Walk in Their Shoes
If you’re interacting with your customer, partner, or your employee, make sure you walk in their shoes for some time to understand them and their perspectives. It helps you understand what they’re going through. What kinds of problems are they facing? What causes these problems? What are their pain points?
The more you understand them, the more you want to help them solve their problems, and the more you develop empathy towards them.
Listen to Understand
Communication these days, unfortunately, is a one-way street. It is yet largely unknown that listening is also a major part of communication. But when you listen, don’t listen to respond. Listen to understand. And always listen with the assumption that you’re wrong. This ensures that your existing understanding or bias doesn’t get in the way while you listen to understand. The person who is talking to you deserves your undivided attention, so focus and listen.
Develop a Strong Imagination
Developing a strong imagination is also quintessential to developing empathy. Good imagination helps you visualize problems others face and their possible solutions.
The biggest impediment to an active imagination is boundaries. We set rules and limits, and confine our thinking to a box. Once limits are set, imagination itself becomes limited. You can develop a strong imagination by removing these constraints. The more constraints you remove, the more vivid your imagination becomes. Having a strong imagination enables you to solve problems without constraints.
So by working on these five points, we can build a strong empathy muscle that helps us solve problems efficiently for customers and stakeholders. It is an essential leadership skill that will enable you to become a better leader who is more empathetic and delivers great results.