When employees and managers are asked to think of one of the best leaders they have ever worked for, your name should come to mind. As CEO, you model the vision and experience of what the culture will or will not be.
When the CEO is highly self-aware, they have the best chance of stepping into their own excellence and empowering the organization they lead to do the same. A self-aware CEO knows who they are—and who they are not—and can thereby manage around their gap areas by allowing others strengths to shine. This is an outstanding model for managers, and in turn employees, because it is the starting place for strengths-based culture that leads to the highest levels of employee engagement.
After all, leadership is NOT a title. Leaders show up in all areas of our organization, especially when a CEO is looking to catch people in the act of doing something right. Looking for those that are willing to serve their team so that their team can serve others is at the core of high functioning, interdependent teams.
As John Maxwell notes, if you think you’re leading, but look back and see nobody is following, you’re just out for a walk. A great way for CEOs to “look” is by asking questions, having conversations with others and putting people into roles and opportunities that may be a stretch. Below I share five tips for CEOs to use strengths-based leadership to build their team’s culture.
1. Connect with employees in 1:1 meetings. When gaps exist, it is often a matter of differences in learning styles and the differences in how people like to be recognized. Three simple questions you can ask in 1:1 meetings: 1) What is the most effective way for you to learn? 2) When you achieve your goals, how would you like to be recognized? 3) What will make you feel valued here?
2. Lead with Hope. It is always important to look at the metrics and KPI’s to keep team members focused on targets, especially when leading virtually. But it is equally important to make sure that the CEO is connecting on a human level. A CEO that leads with hope is able to show how the work from the team makes a difference in something much greater than the bottom line. Hopeful workers are more resilient, innovative, agile and able to navigate the obstacles that will inevitably appear. A simple technique for doing this is a series of “because of you” statements: tell the team “Because of you____” and fill in that blank with an impactful story that has taken place because of their work, that perhaps they may have not seen.
3. Build Trust. Individualize your communication with employees. Learn the little individual elements of people and what makes them tick. How is it that they learn best? How do they like to be recognized? What creates energy for them now and concern for them now in their work, and the new working environment that we are in. Recognize that right now to get the same job done, the steps to do it and work involved may be significantly more. This creates certainty anchors in times of uncertainty that people can build upon to rise, pivot and grow, even amidst many unknowns.
4. Be predictable in unpredictable times. A CEO can’t know everything or predict the future. But their responses should be predictable so their people have trust and don’t have to worry about an erratic leader.
5. Create a culture of compassion. No matter the size of your company, the culture of the organization starts with the CEO. Culture always exists, whether by intention and design or by accident. We can’t have hopeful, trusting employees if the CEO is not modeling that in a way where employees can mirror that. CEOs create the pathway for messaging and modeling the company’s culture, which inevitably leads to the results that those organizations have or don’t have.
CEOs in organizations of any size can ask the same question that Ben Zander identifies in his TED talk: “Who am I being that my [employees’] eyes are not shining?” When your people are engaged, their eyes will shine.