Early in my career leading a business division, I had yet to grasp this important concept. At the end of a one-on-one performance review, a team member asked if they could provide feedback to me after I finished her review. My team member said, "Recently, your attitude and words have taken a pessimistic and negative turn with myself and others. It seems you are highlighting everything the group is doing wrong versus the things we are doing right. While I know you are a positive person, this has become a pattern, and it's wearing on the team and me."
My first reaction was to get defensive and make excuses. Instead, I thanked her for her courage and agreed to do some self-reflection. Over the next few days, I evaluated her specific examples and concluded she was speaking the truth. She told me because she cared and wanted me to improve.
It taught me an important lesson that I have since seen in many of the great leaders I have studied:Leaders don't take things personally; they seek the truth because all improvement starts with it.
While no leader is a perfect communicator, there are phrases the best leaders say consistently to their team members that make them more effective.
1. "I'm Not Going to be Perfect, and I Don't Expect You to be Either"
It's easy for professionals to look up to someone in a leadership position and fool themselves into believing they are perfect. For a leader to put the truth on the table and say, "I'm not going to be perfect, and I don't expect you to be either," creates a foundation of empathy and forgiveness. It expresses to your people that you are human and you know that they are human. Together you are allowed to make mistakes.
When those mistakes happen, we will admit the mistake, learn from it, and then work to not make the same ones in the future. As I wrote in Building the Best, "Failure is not final, failure is feedback."
2 "Thank You"
Saying "thank you" is simple, and it must be done often because it means a lot to your team. Those two little words are magical; people desperately want to be acknowledged for the work they do.
Don't just take my words for it. A recent study by US psychologists in the journal Psychological Science provides clinical proof of what many of us already knew: Saying "thank you" can positively transform your relationship with others.
3. "What Have You Done Today to Help Yourself Tomorrow?"
The best leaders are obsessed with helping others reach their potential. Even with this obsession, they know they can't do it all for their team. Each person has to make the daily decisions and self-disciplined choices to get a little better today than they were yesterday.
The best leaders are obsessed with helping others reach their potential.
By using a phrase like, "what have you done today to help yourself tomorrow," challenges your team to not only think but act differently. I share a great story on the topic of a grasshopper and the ant in the video below that's worth your time. Maybe you will share the story with your team when you ask them the question.
4. "Tell Me More"
One way a leader separates themselves from being a manager is the mindset they take to coaching others. A coach, by definition, is one who trains and instructs. Coaching comes from the word "carriage," meaning to take someone from point A to point B.
In our Coaching for Excellence workshops, I teach leaders to leverage questions and statements to help their team solve their own problems. A simple statement like "tell me more" is a fantastic coaching technique to allow others to get their entire point across before a leader swoops in to solve it for them.
Leaders withhold answers as long as possible to give people the space to solve their own problems first.
Reject your instincts to interject your insight and opinions by using "tell me more" daily. Often people will answer their own questions without you having to be the hero.
5. "What Can I do to Help You?"
There are many forms of leadership, but the concept of servant leadership has emerged as an effective leadership style. The concept behind servant leadership is to flip the traditional hierarchical management model on its head. Instead of your team working for you, you work for them.
Gary Vaynerchuck shared this LinkedIn post recently that describes it perfectly, "Do for them, not what can they do for you! Good workers come from great bosses."
6. "What Are Your Personal Goals?"
Work and careers have changed dramatically in the last 30 years. It was typical for someone to stay with one company for 30+ years, which is now an anomaly. Professionals have embraced the idea of movement and side hustles to achieve their professional goals.
While most managers put their heads in the sand or reject this reality, the best leaders do the opposite. They embrace this shift and participate in helping their people achieve their personal goals.
One of the most powerful questions any leader can ask their team is, "what are your personal goals?" If you want to take it a step further, at the beginning of every year, ask each team member, "What are your goals for this year?" this will help you align your activities and coaching to ensure they achieve them.
About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.