When you step into leadership, you are entrusted with the privilege to exert greater influence and impact on the lives of those reporting to you. That comes with the responsibility to do so in a positive way that not only drives strong performance, but respects the humanity of each contributor.
Think about that. The way you lead is one of the most critical factors in determining employee job satisfaction and literally affects how people feel when they head home at the end of the day.
It’s not easy and there is no way to make everyone happy, but having the best interests of your team members top of mind will position you to help them experience greater workplace satisfaction, grow and see their contribution fitting into something.
It would be easy to imagine that Bruce Springsteen (“The Boss”) got the nickname because he stands head and shoulders above his peers. In fact, it’s because, early in his career, he collected the money at gigs the band played and made sure it was distributed evenly among members. Looking out for the welfare of the group is what actually earned him the title.
Research from McKinsey & Company shows that relationships with bosses and immediate supervisors are the top factors in determining employee job satisfaction. In turn, job satisfaction has a major impact on overall well-being.
Unfortunately, research also shows that most people are not very satisfied with their boss and a recent survey found that 75 percent of respondents said their immediate boss was the most stressful part of their job.
Be the boss you want to have
No matter how high you rise in your career, there will always be aspects of the organization and competitive environment you cannot control. That’s a given. But two things most often under your control are the most important to those you supervise: the organization of their work and an immediate environment of psychological safety.
Even in a highly disrupted or uncertain work environment, striving for a positive influence in these two areas can dramatically improve life for those you lead.
Work organization involves providing team members with clear instruction and expectations for their work, the tools and time needed to perform it effectively and enough autonomy for them to find meaning in their work, bring their own skills and insights to it and minimize frustration from micro-managing.
Psychological safety relies on creating a working environment where fear, undue stress and threats are not used as motivators for performance. In environments of psychological safety, team members are valued for their unique contributions, can show up as their authentic selves, and know that their supervisor will help them to correct and learn from honest mistakes. A safe and collaborative environment allows for purposeful risk-taking, greater innovation and shared problem-solving.
Be the change
Data from McKinsey and others shows that servant leaders who focus on the wellbeing of their team members enhance team performance, workplace satisfaction and even their own sense of meaning derived from their role in helping others. The fundamental elements needed to improve employee satisfaction and enable people to perform their best work are surprisingly simple and can even be undertaken in your corner of the world regardless of overall organization culture. They include:
- Start with humanity. When you demonstrate genuine care and concern for an employee’s wellbeing, you can help them gain the perspective and support to be more productive and to address challenging aspects of their lives outside the workplace that may distract and divide their attention.
- Show appreciation. Be specific and clear about how an employee’s work contributes to team goals, makes your life easier or improves outcomes. Celebrate small wins along the way that help everyone stay motivated.
- Provide cover. Especially in unpredictable and even dysfunctional environments, don’t add more fuel to the fire by sharing every gory detail. The more you can protect team members from the behaviors of difficult leaders up the chain, the more they will be able to focus on their work and make progress toward key outcomes.
- Help them grow. One of the most valuable things you can do for someone you supervise is to help them outgrow their current role and move on. Empower them to make as many decisions about their work as possible, make sure they have the resources to succeed, provide clear lines of support and then get out of the way. Employees with greater autonomy are, on average, happier, according to McKinsey.
- Set the example. If your organization is experiencing growing pains, cutbacks or even an upheaval in senior leadership, it is even more important to create a positive working environment within your area of control. Model the behaviors you want. Admit when you have made a mistake and ask for support to fix it. Ask for input on deliverables and then be clear about the commitment to shared expectations. Be curious about ideas others bring to the table and share yours with a sense of humility.
Remember that workers are multifaceted people even when on the job and that one of the most important things you do is impact how someone feels when they go home at the end of the day.