What is one thing I can do today, to be a better leader?

When we used to network and mingle

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When networking and mingling was a thing (remember those days), as a leadership coach I was often asked, “what is one thing I can do today, to be a better leader and help my team members be more and achieve more”.

Early in my career this question overwhelmed me – my mind would flood with hours of content from workshops I had developed, books I had read and seminars I had taken. But these people were not asking for a course, they just want a practical, high impact piece of advice they could use today – in about a 5-minute conversation.

After years of trying out different thoughts and insights I have finally settled on one answer. Recently I was thanked by, lets call her Donna, who shared that this brief ‘wine in hand networking’ conversation changed her whole experience as a leader and her team’s. In fact, they went on to triple the size of their company over the next 5 years.

Well, my one little answer cannot take credit for all that growth, but with that kind of outcome I decided to sit down and share my one answer and the lead up dialogue with you. Since my mission is to help 10,000 leaders build high trust, high performing teams so we can all love the work we do and the people we work with, I am on task, so here we go.

The Answer to, “What is one thing I can do today, to be a better leader?”

Great question Donna. Before I answer, let me ask you, when a person reaches out to you for help, why might they have hesitated to do so?

Mmm, well they might have worried about looking stupid, not being able to figure it on their own, worried about getting more input than they need, wasting time.

What else?

Maybe they would worry about interrupting me, irritating me, that I might think less of them, lose confidence in them.

Well, what do you think pushed them to instead call you and ask for help?

Well, I always tell my team to call me. That I am here to help and that I don’t expect them to always have the answers. My moto is that there are no stupid questions and, if they are like me it is often helpful to just talk out a problem and get a different perspective.

What else?

They know I am a fair person and that I like to help. They know that I want them to succeed and that if they need help, I want to support them however I can.

That’s great Donna. You are a fair and helpful leader; you have an open door and encourage seeking help vs struggling. You care about your team members and want to encourage and lift them up.

When was the last time you shared this with your team – your intentions, your heart, and your belief in each of team?

Um, I guess sort of in team meetings, maybe more by my actions, but I think they know.

If you asked each person if their experience of you was in line with your intent and your heart, would you get a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10?

Well, maybe an 8

Okay then maybe someone is bringing down the average? Is there someone on your team that might struggle to give you more than a 6 or a 7?

Well yes, probably one, maybe two, I’m not perfect

Not to worry – no one is. Okay, so the answer to your question, “What is one thing I can do today, to be a better leader?” is this:

Go and talk with those two people, 1:1. Share what your intent and heart is as a leader, acknowledge that they may not always experience you as such, and ask them how you can best support them and deliver on your goal to be a good leader for them. Ask them, “What is one thing I can do today, to be a better leader?”

Now listen. No defending, no justifying, no debating – just listen to understand. Be curious.

Get clear on their needs and how their request will help them.

Decide what you can deliver and commit to this. AND remind them that their experience of you might not always align with your intention. Give them permission to check in and share their experience and assumptions on your comments or behavior so you can either clarify your intent or apologize.

So readers, does your team believe that you can help them, that you care for them and that they can trust you?

It is always good to ask and to ask what you can do to be a better leader for them.

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