Don’t Be a Boss, Practice Meaningful Leadership

Perfect your recall, ask questions and use empathy to encourage change.

I have a career stack, and I dismantle it often.

It is a ritual to help me reflect on my impact, to assess the meaning in my work.

This lopsided pile of cards, both glitter-full and glitter free, filled with words of thanks and fond project anecdotes, always leaves me uneasy, with more questions than comforts. Did I boss them or did I lead with my heart?

I don’t want to be a boss, I don’t strive to be the boss and neither should you. Instead, we should want to know that we’ve affected someone’s desire to give, to contribute their very best to the team or cause. Leadership without ego, without the bottom line as the foundation. Leadership with people at the core.

Titles and hierarchies certainly play a role in organizational efficiencies, but meaningful leadership comes from outside the lines of structure. Meaningful leadership creates a safe and encouraging environment for employees to take action. It creates inspiration, motivation and accountability to success with or without an org chart.

This type of magic occurs when leaders emerge not when bosses follow the guidebook or approve vacations, and it can be learned. If you can love and laugh, then you can lead.

Don’t Just Listen, Remember

In the rush to achieve, words have a way of slipping through the cracks in our mind. These forgotten, or missed, syllables and utterances are holding us back from effective, meaningful leadership. You must listen with intention.

The best leaders have amazing recall. They aren’t satisfied with shallow knowledge, they’ve done the listening and have a deep understanding. This type of breadth and recall creates an environment in which individuals feel cared for, understood and on the same page with leadership. It breeds compassion. When we achieve unity in understanding, teams can do amazing things, even if they are lacking tools and resources.

To put listening with intention into practice:

  1. Always disconnect. Whether a one-on-one conversation or a project meeting, take the traditional pen and paper route. Don’t allow for digital distractions.
  2. Take notes. Writing helps commit important points to memory.
  3. Create space. Don’t overbook yourself. Allow for time between meetings to gather thoughts, make additional notes and continue important dialogue that runs over time.
  4. Use your eyes. Tap into visual clues of the room, make eye contact and read body language. Does someone seem unusually closed off when a particular topic comes up? Did expressions change and when?
  5. Ask questions. Listening isn’t about the singular act of sitting quietly while another speaks. Active listening requires follow up and engagement. It requires care. Clarify points, dig deeper and make an effort to get the bottom of any concerning body language.

Practiced listening will bolster your emotional intelligence and give you the tools to lead diverse teams, but best of all, it will naturally remove you from the self-centered, self-preservation trap of the management track.

Use Empathy to Provide Encouragement

Empathy is all the rage. But sitting with someone in their problem, in their pain or discomfort isn’t enough. A compassionate leader, the one you remember more than the duties of the job years later, encourages change.

The power of empathy is not just in understanding another’s plight. True impact lies in the ability to use common ground and mutual understanding to encourage growth and positive forward movement.

Be the leader that takes time to immediately pull aside employees who are showing concerning body language. Listen actively and then help create a plan of action if and where possible. Encourage every new idea. Deal with team politics by first getting to the facts. Never assume, no matter how sure you are of the problem or answer. Just listen, and then teach, offering guidance without always stepping in to settle the score.

Leadership is listening with your whole self, giving the benefit of the doubt and then creating an environment of action. Meaningful leadership is a process, it takes time and growth. It can be subtle and often uncelebrated.

You won’t always know your impact or be able to help everyone. So when it comes time to take stock of your stack, hold onto the words you need to keep trying.

In the disarray of greetings on my office floor, I found mine. Fuel to keep pushing beyond the easy “boss” path.

“Thank you for touching our lives.”

Like what you read? Give Anita Malik a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.