5 Ways a Boss Can Bring Out the Best in People
“Nooooooooo! What the hell are you doing, Sergeant?” the Lieutenant screamed as he sprinted towards me through the dusty chaos.
“You know that Filipino news crew is here to do a story on us disturbing the peace around here, right?” he exclaimed breathlessly.
“No, I didn’t Sir, but I think I just proved their point,” I said.
The Sergeant next to me doubled over in laughter as the PR Lieutenant’s face was beet red with various emotions…but the damage had already been done.
During a US Marine/Filipino Marine joint exercise in the middle of the island of Luzon in the Philippines, a news crew had been invited up to the training site by the PR team. We were to show them how we were working together to help the Filipino Marines build a new observation tower for their gunnery range in Crow Valley. No one told me the crew was also interested in investigating the overall disturbance we were causing the local residents.
I thought I was giving them some great footage for our ‘cooperation’ story, but really I’d just given them the perfect money shot for their ‘disturbance’ one…and it ran on the local 6 o’clock news that night.
I thought I’d be in some sort of trouble for this PR nightmare I made, but my Commanding officer just laughed at my well-intentioned mistake. He knew what to get worked up about and what not to, and most of it was “not to.” He knew laughter could be used almost anywhere. He kept a sense of humor always at the ready as most good bosses do and we loved him for it.
Humor was a regular part of the leadership culture in the Marines for good reason. It lightened the load and brought out the best in people. Humor was the spirit lubricant to more easily slide through any difficulty.
Here are a few more ways leaders can bring out the very best in people.
1. Expect It
The concept of self-fulfilling prophecy is taught to new teachers in one of their first education classes in college. If you expect someone to be good, they’re more apt to be just that. The same is true for low expectations.
If a leader always assumes and expects that the people they lead are performers, excellent, competent, and smart, people will often rise to that expectation even if they are weak in some of those areas.
It’s amazing what a parent’s, teacher’s, or leader’s true belief in someone can do for their morale and performance. Belief in someone is like rocket fuel for their motivation.
You owe it to your team to truly believe in them and always see their potential. And forgive honest mistakes. They’ll often respond to your high expectations by fulfilling that belief and approaching that potential.
“Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.”― Stephen R. Covey
2. Build a Welcoming Home For Dumb Ideas
If you want to get the best ideas, you have to welcome all ideas.
If you laugh off an idea someone has as silly or stupid, even though to you it may be, you’ve effectively discouraged them from sharing creative ideas with you. So the million-dollar idea they had in their brain queue just 5 dumb ideas down will stay locked away now due to your lack of emotional intelligence.
If you want to welcome great ideas, you have to also welcome stupid ones.
This doesn’t mean you act on them, but you respect the people who share them. And because you are always believing in the people you lead anyway, you know they’ll eventually hit on something excellent.
“You have to be willing sometimes to listen to some remarkable bad opinions. Because if you say to someone, ‘That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard; get on out of here!’ — then you’ll never get anything out of that person again, and you might as well have a puppet on a string or a robot.” — John Bryan, former CEO, Sarah Lee Corporation
3. Leave Them Alone and Encourage Initiative
There’s nothing better than a boss who delegates a job to you then leaves you alone to do it. Some bosses assign tasks then can’t keep their meddling fingers out of it, which effectively chokes off any initiative the employee may have shown.
A boss supports their team by leaving them alone to use their own initiative and creativity.
Of course, close collaboration is sometimes needed and so is monitoring progress as you, boss, are responsible. But there’s a fine line between teamwork and micromanagement. If you want to be directly part of the process you just assigned, then let the team lead you once you’ve assigned them a mission…be the helper at that point, not the boss.
A boss getting their hands dirty motivates the hell out of people anyway.
“Micromanaging creativity kills it. To encourage creative brilliance, foster an atmosphere where it can thrive and then step out of the way and let it happen.”― Stewart Stafford
4. Keep Humor at the Ready
As in the opening story, humor is often one of those intangibles that makes a good leader great.
Some of the greatest leaders in the world have spoken on the value and necessity of humor. Humor humanizes people. It makes people more resilient to adversity. It helps things get done more efficiently and keeps spirits up.
Humor also requires judgment of course. Humor at the wrong time could be a huge mistake in tact and can create offense.
But generally, humor should have a permanent seat at every manager’s table.
“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.”― Dwight D. Eisenhower
5. Be Embarrassingly Authentic
I say embarrassingly because an authentic leader has to be vulnerable enough and confident enough to be themselves, admit mistakes, admit ignorance, and even laugh at themselves on occasion.
A boss has to be themself to be the most effective. Just going through leadership motions and not incorporating your own personality into it can leave you robotic. People need to know who they are following and it needs to be a human.
You still apply proven leadership principles, but you put your own twist on them. If this is the first time you’re a boss, just know you don’t have to act like someone else. You can adopt the traits you’ve learned from the bosses you’ve loved, but you always remain who you are because authentic leaders inspire the best in people.
“Authentic leaders are not afraid to show emotion and vulnerability as they share in the challenges with their team. Developing a solid foundation of trust with open and honest communication is critical to authentic leadership.” — Farshad Asl
As someone who has practiced and studied leadership for 25 years in military, corporate, and volunteer settings, I can attest that these things play a major part in bringing out the best effort and quality in someone’s performance.
To recap: a boss can bring out the best in their team when they:
- Expect the best from someone and always believe in them despite any failures.
- Listen to all ideas, even stupid ones.
- Avoid micromanagement while encouraging initiative.
- Keep humor as a constant part of daily business.
- Be truly, authentically yourself as you apply proven leadership wisdom.
And if you have to pick just one to focus on, always believe in people. Believe they can do well. Believe they can come back from failure. Believe they can be better and they will be better.
When you give that gift of belief to those who follow you, they’ll not only give you their very best, but they’ll love the leader you’ve become.