Help employees believe in individual strengths to build an environment that works
by Barry Banther
December 22, 2015

Leadership isn't just something you do, it's something you become. Hiring managers want to know why a potential employee has switched jobs, and sometimes companies, every three to five years. Often, the blame might fall to his or her employees, who seem to stop growing and doubt ownership's commitment to the goal they are asked to reach.

In other words, it must be a fault of the environment, because the manager can't be to blame. "I'm a good manager," he says. He could be correct—sometimes it is the environment. However, what potential leaders often fail to recognize is that they are largely responsible for creating that environment.

Lasting leaders—those who can weather economic downturns and seismic market shifts in their employees or customers—are the ones who know how to assemble a diverse team and bring out the best in team members. If you are not building lasting relationships with your associates, your financial success will be short-lived.

To understand what really defines a leader, start by looking at their followers. Employees have become jaded from broken promises and failed dreams. Today, followers are drawn to leaders who invest time, listen, encourage and appreciate the strengths they see in their employees. These qualities pay dividends in both financial and personal performance for a lifetime.

Leaders who are held in the highest esteem for their success in both the bottom line and with the people they lead epitomize the following five qualities. You will hear phrases like these from their followers: "He was always there for me," "I felt like she really listened," or, "He valued my opinion." The result is employee engagement at the highest level. The following qualities are ones that lasting leaders should be willing to share with their followers.

1. Be open to others.

Every leader claims to have an open-door policy. But, it's not just a leader's door that needs to be open—what also matters is an open mind. Openness encourages employee engagement. The Gallup Organization's study of employee engagement in 7,939 business units in 36 different companies found that "employee engagement was positively associated with performance."

2. Invest time in others.

Leaders are called to assemble a team of people and enable them to be more productive together than any of them could be alone. Leaders can't create time, but when they invest their valuable time to build profitable relationships with their employees, they are multiplying the results they can achieve. Choosing to spend time with employees daily is a leadership best practice.

3. Listen to others.

Trust between leaders and their associates is built upon a transparency that reflects a freedom to speak and be heard. Poorly maintained company cultures in which listening isn't valued impact businesses across the nation every day. It's been estimated that as much as 55 percent of a leader's work time is spent listening. But, many leaders confuse listening with hearing. When you are open to an employee's ideas and you invest the time to hear them, then you are more apt to understand what they are saying and, more importantly, what they are not saying.

4. Offer encouragement to others.

Employees can work for hours without food or water, but they cannot do quality work for more than a few minutes without hope; the hope that their work matters; the hope that they can get the job done and the hope that their effort will be appreciated by their boss. You have few chances as a leader to show respect for employees. That is more potent than surprising them with words that show you believe they have what it takes to get the job done, despite their current challenges.

5. Express appreciation for others' abilities.

When a leader shows genuine appreciation, it is mirrored back in improved attitudes, stronger commitment and better performance. The gift of appreciation is about changing employees' opinions of themselves. When a leader helps employees believe in their individual strengths, they build an environment that works.

You can be appointed to the position of a boss, but not leader. Leaders who develop these five gifts might still move jobs every three to five years, but it will not have been because you can no longer get results. It will be because you have developed a reputation for building a high-performance team who followed your leadership, even under tough conditions. That kind of leader is always in demand.