Where employees are concerned, great leaders don't take. Great leaders give--especially these seven things:
They give a glimpse of vulnerability.
To employees, you're often not a person. You're a boss. (Kind of like when you were in school and you saw a teacher at the grocery store; it was jarring and uncomfortable because teachers weren't people. They were teachers.)
That's why showing vulnerability is a humanizing way to break down the artificial barrier that typically separates bosses from employees. One easy way to break down that barrier is to ask for help.
But don't ask the wrong way. Don't puff out your chest, assume the power-position, and in your deepest voice intone, "Listen, John, I need your help." John knows you don't really need his help. You want him to do something.
Instead ask the right way. Imagine you've traveled to an unfamiliar place, you only know a few words of the language, and you're both lost and a little scared.
How would you ask for help? You would be humble. You would be real. You'd cringe a little and dip your head slightly and say, "Can you help me?" Asked that way, John would know you truly needed help. You've lowered your guard. You're vulnerable. And you're not afraid to show it.
By showing vulnerability, you lift the other person. You implicitly recognize her skills while extending trust.
And you set a great example: Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness.
It's a sign of strength.
They give a nudge.
From the employee's point of view the best ideas are never your ideas. The best ideas are their ideas, and rightly so. So don't spell out what you want done. Leave room for initiative. Leave room for ownership.
When you describe what you want to be done, paint with a broad brush. Give employees room to take your ideas and make them their own.
They'll do more than you imagined possible--and they'll feel a sense of satisfaction and gratification that simply following instructions can never provide.
They give unexpected attention.
Everyone loves attention. Unfortunately you don't have unlimited time to devote to each employee.
So make the most of the time you do have. Don't just comment on the big stuff, the stuff you're supposed to focus on.
Notice a small detail. Praise a particular phrase she used to smooth the transition from customer conflict to problem resolution. Praise how he swung by another employee's desk to grab paperwork he could deliver on his way to another office. Pick something small, something positive, something helpful--something unexpected--to show you really pay attention.
Pick out details and employees know you're watching--in a good way--and not only will they work harder, more importantly they will feel better about themselves.
They give employees a break.
He messed up. Badly. Not only are you a little pissed, this is a teachable moment. You feel compelled to talk about it, possibly at length.
Don't. For a good employee, the lesson is already learned. Catch his eye, nod, let it go, and help him fix the problem.
Once in a while employees can all use a break. When they get one they never forget it. And they try really hard to show they deserved that break--and to make sure they never need another one.