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Once when asked about leadership, legendary college basketball coach John Wooden said the following: "A leader must command respect of those under him. They must know that the leader cares about them. Really cares about them. That he really cares about their family."
Coach Wooden knew leadership. In the dozen years he served as head basketball coach at the University of California at Los Angeles, Wooden led his team to 10 NCAA championships, seven of them consecutively. Although he passed away in 2010, the coach is still widely regarded by many in the business world as a major source of leadership wisdom.
As a leader, I’ve learned via my own experience that it’s important to connect with and get to know the people who work for and with you. With all the responsibilities a CEO, business owner or senior-level executive has to deal with each day, it’s easy to take for granted, however unintentionally, the people who arrive at work and put forth their time, effort and creativity to keep the company running smoothly. But we shouldn’t. Our employees are the lifeblood of our organizations.
So how do we show our employees, as Coach Wooden recommends, that we care about them? Below are some tips.
Get to know them.
Smart leaders are proactive about engaging with their employees. Each person in your organization has a life outside of work, and brings a wealth of life experiences to work each day. When you make a point of connecting, engaging with and bonding with your employees, you get to see each as the people they are. For the leader, it makes good business sense to not only be visible among your staff, but to also get to know them. Let them know they’re valuable to the company by connecting with them as human beings with homes, families and lives outside of work.
Listen to them.
It’s often mentioned that when leaders are dismissive of their employees’ ideas, employees tend to lack initiative. They begin to perceive themselves as numbers on a timecard whose only job is to show up, work and go home. On the other hand, employees often have ideas and insights that can potentially benefit the company, and smart leaders who regularly ask them for their thoughts and ideas, listen actively and encourage feedback can often build a culture of cooperation, mutual respect and loyalty.
Lead by example.
While delegation is an important function of being a CEO or senior executive, there’s a difference between being a “boss” and being a leader. When you look at all the great leaders throughout history, one thing you often note is that they’re right there with their employees, working hard to achieve results. The CEO who sometimes goes on sales calls with members of his sales staff is an example of this. Back when the film “Saving Private Ryan” was shot, it was reported that some of the actors weren’t thrilled to go through some necessary exercises that were part of the preparation to play soldiers. The film’s star, Tom Hanks, however, was willing to do it and his example set a positive tone on the set for the other actors. When you can find opportunities to show your employees that you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, do it. It engenders respect.
Take time to appreciate them.
It’s often the simple things. Sometimes, a word of praise or encouragement is all it takes to make employees realize that you are grateful for their contributions. It’s really easy to do and it can pay huge dividends by making them feel good about themselves and what they do on a daily basis. When opportunities present themselves, let your employees know that you’re aware of what they’re doing and that they’re valuable to the company. If you show your employees genuine respect, they will reciprocate.
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My Place Realty recently announced the launch of our resident services portal for tenants. Now tenants can make rent payments online, check the status of those payments and review their payment history. To make the service effortless, tenants can download the app right on to their smartphones for access at any time.
In a competitive market, this, and other technology is helping property managers maintain tenant satisfaction. We are always looking for new, innovative ways to attract renters and make life easier for our current tenants. Through access to technology, we can make ourselves stand out from the competition when we make it a part of the renting experience.
Technology plays a large part in every stage of a renter’s experience, beginning with how potential tenants find and apply for apartments. It’s not surprising that residents begin their search for the perfect rental online. For property managers, this highlights the importance of making listings as easy to find as possible.
In terms of property maintenance, 24 hour service is key to showing tenants you value their loyalty. When tenants find it hard to get in touch with the landlord or property manager, it can be disconcerting. One technology option you can offer your tenants is an online tenant portal. This is a tool that is beneficial in part because it allows tenants to send in maintenance requests at any hour of the day; and it ensures the staff receives the message immediately. In turn, tenants are ensured that we never miss a maintenance call.
Another way to harness technology to improve tenant experience is by creating an online community that connects renters living in the same building or property. For example, establishing an online platform where tenants can interact through discussions, message boards and can make comments helps to build a sense of camaraderie; it also improves communication between the tenant and the property manager.
Finally, online forums help tenants find out about contests, events and amenities that they may not otherwise be aware of. They can also help build excitement and discussion leading up to the event, boosting engagement and participation.
The most important takeaway is that you are showing your tenants that you are listening to them. Technology has certainly helped property managers create happier, more satisfied tenants.
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When you lead a company, you realize that change is constant. This applies to changes in the marketplace, your industry, the day-to-day processes you use, and maybe even your employee base as workers are tempted by and accept job offers elsewhere. The challenge for us, as leaders, is learning how to accept, anticipate, embrace, and ultimately, lead our companies through change as a part of doing business.
Following is some advice I’ve gained through my own leadership journey.
Be prepared to lead.
Your employees, from senior managers to front-line staff, are looking to you to provide much-needed leadership before, during and after change. To accomplish this, you must have a high level of confidence. You also have to be consistent in your positions related to change. This means demonstrating, through your words and actions, that you’re firmly in charge. Employees respect a strong leader, but that respect is earned. Your confidence and commitment to facing impending change will be needed to engender employee support.
Explore all the options before committing.
Gain all the knowledge you need. No one in a leadership position should ever enter into a situation that brings about change without examining it from every perspective before making a decision. Strong leaders make decisions after carefully considering all available data. They also understand the importance of seeking opinions and asking questions of trusted colleagues, mentors and others. Look at the likely positives and negatives related to possible change and make an educated, well-thought-out decision.
Initiate the change yourself.
Take the reins and be in control. Don’t allow change to control. In some ways, this means being tough. It’s smart to prepare for transitions by planning and gathering necessary resources and fortifying relationships. At the same time, you’ll need to maintain a strong company. If you’re a leader who has built a solid track record of innovation, and if you’re known for being an effective decision-maker, your employees will place their trust in your ability to lead them through changes, and might even look forward to it.
Be transparent and empathetic.
Although you have an inside track and know what kinds of changes will be forthcoming, many on your staff likely don’t. It’s important for leaders to realize this and to consider what concerns they might have. In large part, their concerns are practical ones; they want to know how their jobs will be affected and how their families might be impacted. This is why it’s important to provide them with timely communication that explains the benefits (to them and the company) associated with the planned changes and how their daily routines will or won’t be different. By this same token, encourage them to ask specific questions, then provide them with answers in a public forum like a meeting, employee newsletter or intranet site. This kind of openness is a very good tactic from a public relations perspective so gossip and innuendo don’t get communicated in lieu of a truthful message.
Share your vision. Let your employees know that successful change will only be possible if everyone in the company is on the same page. Tell them that only by working together as a strong team will good things result -- whether increased revenue, heightened market competitiveness or even company survival. Inspire them. Persuade them to accept change and believe in your vision. Provide them with a clear picture of what the future will hold. Get everyone to focus on the same goal and the need to work together to achieve it.
Change is going to happen at some point. By preparing to lead it, all transitions that occur should take place as smoothly as possible.
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It’s one thing to have a great idea. It’s another to take action and make it real. And it’s yet another to inspire others to bring their A-game to work every day for your company.
Leadership is an interesting thing. Hundreds if not thousands of books have been written about it, there are numerous audio programs you can listen to in your car or while walking on the treadmill and there’s no shortage of speakers who will tell you how to lead effectively. Then, there’s learning by doing.
During the time I’ve spent leading people, one of the most valuable things I’ve learned is the importance of inspiring others. This requires making a connection with your employees and colleagues, communicating effectively, being confident and decisive, and leading by example.
Make a connection
Making a connection with each person who works for or with you is incredibly important. Reach out to everyone on your team and let them know what your expectations are and also how much you need their contributions. Assure them of their standing and of the value they bring to the company. At the same time, get to know them and learn what their backgrounds, interests and goals are. By doing this, you’ll get to know the whole person, not just the employee. You’ll begin to consider them less a cog in the gear than you will a unique individual whose skills, talents and hard work are helping the company achieve results.
Many of the most effective leaders are also excellent communicators. Whether you’re speaking to an audience of employees or one-on-one with an individual, having strong communication skills can be a real asset in inspiring others. The need to communicate clearly, succinctly and energetically, using carefully selected words, will help you not only when providing direction but also during those times you need to explain a sensitive issue or “rally the troops” for an important project. When you have something meaningful to say, present it in an eloquent manner.
Be confident and decisive
If you’ve launched a company or hold a leadership role in one, you have a certain level of confidence. You’ve been there and you know what you’re doing. As a leader, you’ll want to delegate, guide, coach, and even serve as a mentor for those who work for you. Confidence is key to establishing yourself as the person whose vision sets the tone for the leader-employee relationship. So is being decisive. No one respects a person who has a leadership title but conducts him or herself in a wishy-washy manner. This not only means believing in yourself but also accepting responsibility when things occasionally don’t go as expected.
Lead by example
It’s your company, so you have to set the tone for how business is conducted on a day-by-day basis. This is where leading by example helps to foster inspiration. When employees see you doing what you expect them to do, they realize that you’re doing, not telling. While delegation is a major part of leadership, simple things like adhering to company policies, being punctual, working hard, and acting in a proactive manner communicates to employees that the leader isn’t holding him or herself above the rules. It doesn’t place you at their level, but rather demonstrates the importance of what you’re asking them to do.
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Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” This is a quote I live by from both a personal and professional standpoint.
Lifelong learning means constantly upgrading your skills. Over the years, I’ve learned that what I do is way more important than what I say when it comes to enhancing my skills. This theory has led me to complete a number of self-development seminars, coaching programs and reading books so that I can become the best version of myself. Through these personal courses, I have been able to expand on my personal and professional aptitude.
When it comes down to it, there is no one best way to learn. The best way to learn is by setting goals and objectives and going from there. Learning is not just a classroom event -- it is a lifelong experience comprised of mentorship, experimenting, seeking advice from a trusted colleague, or reading a book.
As a leader, and from an organizational perspective, this means creating a working culture that supports learning and development. From an employee's standpoint, this supports a specific set of skills and mindset for optimal learning. For instance, leaders can offer online courses that can be accessed by anyone and make it convenient at any time.
Having this sort of self-starter mindset is the first leg on your journey to becoming a well-rounded and successful person. Individuals who make self learning a priority in their busy lives understand the importance it has on creating opportunities.
If you’re willing to expand your mind, the benefits will likely present themselves. Further, the pursuit of knowledge is easier than it has ever been with advancements in technologies. You can find information online or ask questions virtually to other professionals for the answers you wish to seek.
Remember, a successful business is only as strong as the people who contribute to it. Individuals who are committed to learning on a personal level will likely thrive in their professional lives as well. In a constantly changing world, it’s crucial to stay current, competitive and up to date.