As the speed, uncertainty, and complexity of global markets intensify, leaders must learn to navigate this fast-moving landscape—by keeping their businesses on track amid adaptive change. Leaders must develop the agility to confront uncertain times by engaging the workforce through vision, understanding, and clarity. What will it take to achieve all of this? As part of our brand promise to Inspire Change and Grow Leaders GPS Dairy Consulting has included a leadership blog on our website. Our first year of weekly posts will focus on the basic leadership skills that coaches around the world have indicated to be the most important leadership skills. Each month one of these skills will be addressed by four professional leadership development coaches – one each week. Please visit the blog frequently. Feel free to include other leaders in your organization and tell your friends and colleagues. Grow your skills as a leader and inspire change in your organization.

Interpersonal Skills: Your Leadership BrandClick to open Interpersonal Skills: Your Leadership Brand

Your interpersonal (relational) skills influence how people experience you as a leader. The reality is that others’ perception of you is your leadership brand. I like the concept of “brand” with leaders because it is a universal concept. We all know brands we like and dislike. The brands we like give us positive feelings and experiences. The brands we dislike have poor experiences associated with them.

In the world of online reviews, how many 5-star reviews would you get? Or would you cringe at the comments section? Can you consciously influence other’s perceptions or experience of you? Of course, your leadership brand is enhanced by how you consistently AND skillfully relate to others! If I asked your people to use words to describe you; would they use words like great listener, organized, consistent and dependable? 5 stars!

Interpersonal skills are “people” skills. They involve your ability to communicate and build relationships. If yours are sharp, you have an invaluable asset. If they’re not, your brand as a leader will suffer and you won’t influence others in the ways you want. There are several areas to develop, but here are my top three — get good at these and your brand will shine.

Active Listening

Stephen Covey hit the nail on the head when he said that “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” You can’t benefit from someone else’s knowledge, experience or perspective if you don’t listen to what they say and how they say it. Listening with intention is a skill many leaders don’t have. If you can master it,  your brand of leadership will stand head and shoulders above others. Listening is leading.

Follow this simple process to improve your active listening exponentially.

  • Be in the moment with whomever is speaking.
    • Set down your phone and look at them. Let them know they are getting your attention.
    • Eliminate distractions by removing yourself from a busy environment if you need to.
    • ALWAYS make your people the main attraction when they communicate with you.
  • Be willing to go “off course” from what you anticipated.
    • Show you’re listening with your body language, nod or acknowledge ideas.
    • Don’t interrupt.
    • Take notes if the conversation warrants it so you can come back to key points.
  • Acknowledge their point of view/thoughts.
    • Don’t shoot the messenger when they tell you something, otherwise they will stop bringing anything to you.
    • Summarize and check for your understanding. Simple and powerful practice.

Organization

Next is organization. These skills are about structure and efficiency and are so fundamental that we often don’t give them the time and attention they deserve. Start with your desk or workspace (which could be your vehicle). Keep it clear and orderly. Know where stuff is and have a system for it. Our work environment in a sense organizes us – it can “coach” us to be organized or disorganized.

The next skill is even simpler. KEEP A CALENDAR. And keep it updated. Use whatever tool works for you.

And finally (hopefully you learned this one early on) – show up on time. Be predictably prompt. Start and end meetings on time. Manage time the way you manage money (or better) – it’s even more valuable.

Keep Your Commitments

The word “C-O-M-M-I-T-M-E-N-T” scares many people for various reasons. For your brand as a leader, ground zero is the ability to make and keep commitments repeatedly over time. Leaders make decisions, decisions require commitment and a leader’s commitments are gold. I define commitment as a way of being intellectually and emotionally bound to a purposeful action. Once you say you are committed, that means you will do whatever it takes to deliver. Aristotle really hit the nail on the head when he said — “we are what we repeatedly do — excellence then is not an act, but a habit.”

Make a habit of keeping your commitments – those large and small. Do it repeatedly and see how much power and capacity you begin to create for yourself and those depending on your leadership. And watch your leadership brand grow stronger.

Leading with EmpathyClick to open Leading with Empathy

Everyone communicates, yet few truly connect.

Ask anyone to talk about a memorable leader that they have worked with and it is unlikely they will speak about the step-by-step protocol that they developed or their ability to create the annual budget. I’m not suggesting that technical skills are not important, far from it. Although very necessary, they are not sufficient alone when it comes to truly great leadership.

It is your interpersonal skills, often referred to as ‘soft skills,’ and your ability to relate to others that will determine how successful of a leader you become. You can be the most knowledgeable leader in the world, but if you are unable to relate or interact well with those around you, especially those in your team, you are unlikely to be totally effective in your role.

So, what is it that great leaders do to build strong relationships with those around them? They commit to developing and mastering the ‘soft skills’ of leadership. There are several and this commitment is an ongoing journey of learning and practice. You’ve heard the saying “People won’t always remember what you say; they do, however, remember how you made them feel.” Connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence with them. A key leadership skill that advances your ability to ‘connect’ is empathy.

While empathy is a basic human quality, it often is lacking in our day-to-day lives and workplaces. According to Merriam-Webster, empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of and being sensitive to one’s feelings, emotions, or pain vicariously as if it was experienced by themselves.” In short, empathy means imagining, or having the capacity to imagine, feelings that a person is feeling.

For leaders that have encountered some “life experiences” being empathic may come naturally and imagining isn’t needed. Here’s an example:

Imagine a member of your team goes through a tragic situation; for instance, she loses a close family member in an accident. We naturally feel sympathy for her and her family. We may send a text or write a card to express those feelings somehow. For the most part, though, we carry on and move forward with our lives.

But when we show empathy, we take more time…time to remember how we felt when we lost someone close to us (or how we would feel if we haven’t had this experience).

We think about how this affected our work and our relationships with others. Even further, we can or try to imagine specifically how this member of our team feels in this situation. We recognize that she (like every individual) will deal with the trauma in her own unique way.

Empathy has been described as “your pain in my heart.” The challenge is, as a leader, we are not always ready and for various reasons. If a leader can demonstrate true empathy to individual team members it will go a long way toward building that strong relationship and encourages an “all-in culture” for them to perform at their best. It likely will pay dividends inspiring the team to show empathy toward the leader, if and when it is needed.

So how can you, as a leader, practice being more empathetic?

  • The next time a member of your team comes to you with a problem or complaint; resist saying to yourself, “Not again. What now?” and having that negative attitude. Rather, try to think back to when you had a similar problem and if not you, someone you respect that has and ask yourself: “Why does this person feel this way? What can I do to help make the situation better?”
  • If it is a specific task or process that is causing problems to arise, try to work alongside the disgruntled team member, to better understand the person’s point of view. This does require you as the leader to slow down and it takes time. Showing empathy in this way will often motivate the one(s) you are trying to help. Not to mention the benefits this will bring to your working relationship.

Simply put, empathy begins by giving others the benefit of the doubt. When you display this pause, presence, and compassion; in the eyes of others, it makes us more human, approachable and easier to work with.

Leadership requires learning a number of skills and interpersonal (or ‘soft skills’) transform good leaders into great leaders. Empathy is one key leadership skill that will allow you to truly connect with others and likely, you will find that your ability to identify, relate, and increase your influence advances.

How to Lead in Uncertain Times Click to open How to Lead in Uncertain Times 

Uncertain times seem to be the new normal. How have you changed your leadership style?

Often when we feel uncertain and challenged, it is easy to default to “command and control.” Just start dishing out orders and assignments. How has that worked for you?

When I have tried “command and control,” it always backfired…sometimes sooner than later. Maybe it would be different if I was the captain of a sinking ship, but in my business the situation was never that dire.

In looking back, I now recognize that if my anxiety was high because of chaos, my people are even more anxious. The best results were when I stopped and took a breath. I hit the pause button; breathe in and out. I sat down with my people. I singled out the challenging people and the leaders; I met with them individually. I got them talking about all their concerns, worries and hopes. Then I met with the team as a group and got them talking. It was hard, but I really listened to them. We brainstormed as a group what we could control and what we couldn’t control. As a group, we created a path forward. We agreed to check in once a week to monitor progress and tweak the plan if needed. It took about 7 months, but we navigated our way out of a very tough situation.

I know it is tempting to think there is not time for all of this team involvement, all of the communication and brainstorming when you are inside the pressure cooker. But think again. This experience really changed my team. They shifted to more authentic communications with each other, increased trust and accountability. Instead of me having to create the solution, I tapped into the brain power of my whole team…. you can’t beat that. And, most important, the team had skin in the game! You can’t put a price tag on working with a very high functioning team.

This past year has reinforced how unpredictable the world can be and how interconnected everything is. It has highlighted for me that it is important to be “sharpening the saw” as often as I can because I can’t predict what it around the corner. What are you doing to keep your leadership skills sharp?

Knowing Who You AreClick to open Knowing Who You Are

As leaders, we are continually placed in positions where we feel like we need to have answers about outside things. We spend so much time as leaders thinking and planning and worrying about how to handle situations and people outside of us, that we forget to think about how to handle ourselves. Your job as leader is to help others be successful, but you can’t be successful if you aren’t getting the things you need.

Transform Your Team in 2021Click to open Transform Your Team in 2021

Tune into this podcast with Kristy Pagel as she talks about one of the most powerful, yet simple, tools dairy teams can use to boost morale, empower people and take things to the next level in 2021.