I was listening to Wharton Radio on Sirius/XM last week and a listener was calling to complain about an unmotivated, know it all subordinate. Quickly into the discussion, it became apparent that the problem was with the manager as much as the employee. The caller twice interrupted the host who was suggesting potential course of action to dismiss their ideas as trite.
It got me thinking about qualities that are important for leaders that are softer than the traditional inspirational, honest, competent and forward-thinking attributes that are indisputably the key ones and I kept thinking about relevance. The idea is a leader needs to be able to relate to their team and the situations that they face.
In too many cases, leaders lack the emotional intelligence to understand the situation they are in and how to find a positive solution for all involved. In the case above, the caller had the audacity to tell her subordinate to look in the mirror when she told him he was defensive. She clearly did not understand the person she was talking to and was not self-aware of her strengths and weaknesses. She could not relate.
This is especially important when you lead people across the traditional generational classifications. You need to figure out how to relate to each person on a personal and direct level as well as understand the cultural, experiential, and demographic differences between you and your team and work to bridge them. You also need to understand how each person views their job, tasks, goals, and values.
At the same time, you need to be vulnerable to your team and explain where you are coming from. People in today’s workforce do not respect nor accept “because I said so”. You need to be able to relate your goals to them in ways to make them want to follow you.
You also need to understand that you are an important figure in your team’s life for a few reasons. One of course is that you control their professional livelihood. You also act as the moral compass for your team. You also their window into what upper management values as an ideal employee.
If your experience, personality and attitude are not relevant to the position you hold, you will never be viewed as a leader.