How To Be A Good Leader? Get Real

Labor Day’s coming up. To me, national holiday not only reminds me of honoring the workforce (which we’ve been doing as a nation since 1894), it also signifies the start of a new season. I may have left my school days behind, but that feeling of sharpening my pencils for some serious buckling down has never left.

What’s on the curriculum? In the university of HR, celebrating the workforce is more important than ever — and celebrating them every day. That requires good leadership, with a human face. I’ve been spending a lot of airtime on Talent Acquisition’s need to keep pace with the amazing tech innovations happening fast. Yes: we’re about to be hit with a virtual tidal wave of Big Data as Steve Lohr aptly put it. And yes: for HR and talent analytics, that means we have to entirely retool — and fast. But especially in the face of such massive changes, we need to focus on people, not numbers. Say it with me: A company’s success is driven by its workforce’s performance. In one sense, every day needs to be Labor Day.

I’m thinking of a supermarket. We all heard about my local grocery chain Market Basket, the quiet little New England supermarket chain whose loyal employees (and customers) responded with a resounding NO when their beloved CEO was ousted. The organization’s top-down restructuring lost millions during the misstep because it overlooked a key factor in its own success: the authentic, human relationship that Arthur T. Demoulas forged with his workforce. And I do mean authentic: based not on smoke and mirrors, on a pat on the back and a turning of the cheek, but on a mode of leadership with humans at the core. That means real benefits, a real profit-sharing plan, and first-name interactions across the board. As soon as the CEO came back, so did the success of the company.

Good leadership is authentic leadership.

When you align the best interests of your company with the best interests of your workforce, you generating more than employee loyalty. You generate customer loyalty as well.

Good leadership wants its workforce to win.

When you create a company culture that puts your people and their performance first, that will drive the best outcome for your business.

Good leadership wants it workforce to be happy.

When your people are happy, they feel more capable, more confident, and more creative. They’ll transmit that into their communications and interactions, advancing the business and driving innovation. Confidence, as many of us in HR see all the time, is contagious. It imbues collaborations with more positive outcomes, and ultimately inspires customer confidence.

Good leadership means real collaboration.

A recent piece by Rebecca Newton in Harvard Business Review focused on what defines truly collaborative leadership, and I agree:  “I define real collaborative leadership as: facilitating constructive interpersonal connections and activities between heterogenous groups to achieve shared goals. It is proactive and purpose-driven.”  Proactive. Purpose driven. I’d also add: continuous. Collaborative leadership is a perpetual learning process, adapting and growing with every new hire, new promotion, new goal.

Good leadership focuses on people, not numbers.

It may sound like a cliché, but in the face of a profoundly changing world of work (remember that tidal wave of Big Data about to hit?), it’s more important than ever. Regardless of data, regardless of technology, you simply can’t have an optimally performing organization without a genuine, people-centric relationship between leadership and workforce.

So enjoy your Labor Day. And if you’re here in New England, stop at Market Basket. The service rocks.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

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