4 Things People Want from Leaders
Leadership is a way of life.
When you lead your own life, you demonstrate leadership traits. Others notice, and often you’ll find yourself in a leadership position, whether you sought one or not.
Sure, not everyone in a leadership role has leadership skills; sometimes roles are handed out for seniority or popularity or politics or personality. Maybe some names are coming to mind? That’s not a real leader. True leaders don’t need a position or title. Sometimes, they don’t even realize they are leaders! Demonstrate leadership first. The acknowledgement comes later.
Whether you already are in a leadership position, you hope to be down the road, or you simply want to lead your own life, there are four things people want from leaders (according to Gallup polls) that you can learn to develop and communicate: trust, compassion, stability, and hope.
Each of these must begin within you. But having them within you is not enough. They must then be communicated to others. Not verbally, of course. If you have to say, “I’m trustworthy,” well… that’s not a good sign. Demonstrate these traits through behavior and nonverbal communication. That goes a lot farther! Here are some ways to do that.
Trust has been widely studied and researchers agree that it includes three components: credibility, integrity, and empathy. All three are communicated nonverbally.
Credibility means that others believe that you know what you’re talking about. You’re not just making stuff up. In addition to speaking logically and factually, how you deliver your message matters. Speak authoritatively, with a flat voice that curls down at the ends of statements, to show that you and your message are credible.
Integrity means that you are who you say you are. Follow up your words with actions. To make sure you can do that, be careful what you say. Don’t spout platitudes if you can’t back it up with congruent behavior. And in your communication make sure that your nonverbals—what you are saying with your body language and voice—match what you’re saying with your words.
To build trust, however, you need an additional component: you care about others. Crises test your ability to show empathy. It’s easy to lapse into survival mode (fight-or-flight)—by definition, you’re focused only on your own survival. If you’re just looking out for yourself, no one will trust or follow you. To get out of survival mode, breathe deeply. Not only does it activate the logical and creative part of your brain, it lets others know you aren’t a threat.
Communicate credibility with authoritative voice pattern. Communicate integrity with congruent nonverbals. Communicate that you aren’t self-focused by breathing well under stress.
In terms of leadership, having compassion means treating people as if they are real human beings, not just a “human resource.” When others feel like they are seen and heard and valued, it leads to many positive benefits in business, including increased productivity, profitability, customer satisfaction, and employee attendance and retention.
To cultivate compassion, develop curiosity in others, learn to listen, and notice contributions. As with all aspects of leadership, however, doing these things won’t get you very far if you don’t actually communicate that you are curious about others, listening to them, and noticing their contributions. Ask thoughtful questions, give attention and eye contact when others are speaking, and be explicit with thanks and praise.
If there’s one thing I know for sure about life, it’s that I know almost nothing is sure. As Heraclitus said, “The only constant in life is change.” Especially during times of change or crisis, people look to leaders for stability. Leaders are grounded in unchanging principles and values.
To provide stability, start with these three things: 1) Clarity. Be straightforward and specific about expectations, consequences, needs, appreciation, risks, or limitations. With clarity, there are fewer surprises and miscommunications. 2) Transparency. Even when the message is negative, people feel safer when they know the truth. Use open body language (instead of arms crossed, hands on hips, or hands in pockets) to nonverbally convey that you have nothing to hide. 3) Calmness. Especially in the midst of a crisis, you can provide stability by your own demeanor. Be alert and focused, without descending into panic or apathy.
When your presence provides stability, it changes the emotional atmosphere. Everyone feels stronger, safer, and more capable. That’s why we look to those who don’t fall apart under pressure to lead us through the storm.
I have often said in workshops that leadership requires vision. That is true, yet it’s only part of the story. It’s not enough to paint a beautiful picture of what could be; to be a leader, you must communicate confidence in achieving that vision. That’s hope.
Trust and compassion are prerequisites for leadership. Providing hope and stability are a leader’s true work. Acknowledge the reality of the present moment, then point others toward a brighter future, whether that’s 15 minutes or 150 years from now. The key, though, is to inspire confidence in others that not only can you achieve your vision, but they can, too. Many of the nonverbal tips already mentioned come together to communicate confidence: breathe well, speak authoritatively, and use open body language.
We are living in unprecedented times. The world needs leaders. The world, at the very least, needs you to lead your own life toward a better future. Practice being trustworthy, exhibiting compassion, creating stability, and providing hope to yourself and others. It will change your life. It will change others’ lives. It may even change the world.