As the Chief People Officer at Nestlé USA, I understand that being an effective and strong leader is itself a full-time job. The best managers I’ve known or worked for over my career know how to be effective: creating the right culture and communicating clear objectives and strategies cultivates a highly motivated and performance-driven workforce. Strong leaders also understand that leading others is a privilege that is earned every day. At Nestlé, we know we can only serve our consumers if our employees are all-in at every level of the business.
Nestlé USA CEO Steve Presley talks about the virtues of “people leaders,” those who empower their employees to make decisions and to really take ownership of the work they do. These types of leaders — who are highly desired at Nestlé — build a workforce of leaders at every level, not just a sea of drones. In the marketplace, this translates into a fast-moving, agile, collaborative, and courageous workforce that is consumer-led at all times.
So whether you’re a leader already, an aspiring one, or simply an employee who wants to understand the ingredients of sound leadership, here are five questions every strong leader should ask herself or himself:
1. Are you modeling the behavior you want to see in your employees?
There’s nothing more demoralizing than hearing one thing from your supervisor and then seeing them do another. The best leaders… well, lead. And they do so by example. If you’re telling your employees they should hold each other accountable, then you must hold yourself accountable, and let them hold you accountable. If you tell your staff that collaboration with other departments is essential, then you should embody collaboration in your interactions with your team and those across the business. Modeling is one of the most impactful ways to drive change in your organization.
2. Are team objectives clear and measurable, and have they been communicated?
Imagine being dropped off in the middle of a new city and told to find your way to a hidden-away restaurant without your smart phone or any sense of direction. That’s essentially what a manager does if she or he fails to give the team clear and measurable objectives. A good leader makes sure that each team member knows their role, the expectations and what success looks like. A good leader listens to the people around them and works to understand other points of view. The best stories of success are written when team members know how the story should end.
3. Are you providing meaningful and actionable feedback to help encourage the right behaviors?
One of the greatest opportunities for growth in any organization comes during employee performance reviews. But the most effective leaders constantly provide thoughtful and actionable feedback throughout the year, not just during an employee’s annual review. Rewards can come in many shapes and sizes — whether pay raises, bonuses, time off, new responsibilities, or title changes — but the time and effort strong leaders put into coaching up their employees can be the greatest gift of all. Coaching can help employees thrive in their current roles and well into their careers.
4. Are you cultivating a positive and empowered environment in which employees can do their best work?
A workplace team often takes on the personality of the team’s manager. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how that person leads. Even within a single organization, it’s pretty easy to identify the teams that work collaboratively, seem to genuinely enjoy one another, and engage in their work with energy, creativity, and vigor. On those teams, it’s a good bet that the manager exudes those same characteristics and instills a positive and empowering vibe. On other side of the spectrum, many of us have seen what a negative leader looks like. They see roadblocks everywhere, rather than bridges, and their currency is “can’ts” rather than “cans.” That approach has the ability to sink a team. Employees do their best work when they are eager to model, rather than navigate around, the approach of their leader.
5. Are you willing to change?
Leaders in any organization are tasked with setting agendas and goals and, ultimately, steering change so that the greater team can succeed. We ask a lot of our employees. Whether through coaching, workshops, or other types of training, we often ask them to change what they do or how they do it. But leaders must be willing to change, too. I’ve been a manager long enough to understand that self-improvement never ends. Any leader set in his or her ways will be telling their team that the status quo is good enough and that leadership means infallibility. A manager who leads with humility and admits mistakes will bring credibility to the role and support trust in the workplace.
At Nestlé, we’re working toward creating a culture of leadership that holds a mirror up to every one of us, at every level of management. It’s a commitment we’ve made to our tens of thousands of employees across the country, and a sign of our constant quest to improve how we work. To succeed, we need a workforce that encourages personal growth and professional excellence so that we can continue to deliver incredible products to our customers.
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