Back to Blog
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.