February 12, 2013
The 6 Gifts Of Great Leaders

Where employees are concerned, great leaders don’t take. Great leaders give – especially these six things:

1. They give a glimpse of vulnerability.

To employees you’re often not a person. You’re a boss. (Kind of like when you were in school and you saw a teacher at the grocery store and it was jarring and uncomfortable because teachers weren’t people. They were teachers.)

That’s why showing vulnerability helps break down the artificial barrier that typically separates bosses from employees. One easy way to break down that barrier is to ask for help. By showing vulnerability, you lift the other person. You implicitly recognize his or her skills while extending trust.

And you set a great example: Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.

2. They give a nudge.

From the employee’s point of view, the best ideas are never your ideas. The best ideas are their ideas, and rightly so. So don’t spell out what you want done. Leave room for initiative. Leave room for ownership.

When you describe what you want to be done, paint with a broad brush. Give employees room to take your ideas and make them their own.

They’ll do more than you imagined possible – and they’ll feel a sense of satisfaction and gratification that simply following instructions can never provide.

3. They give unexpected attention.

Everyone loves attention. Unfortunately you don’t have unlimited time to devote to each employee.

So make the most of the time you do have. Don’t just comment on the big stuff, the stuff you’re supposed to focus on.

Notice a small detail. Praise a particular phrase your employee used to smooth the transition from customer conflict to problem resolution. Praise how she swung by another employee’s desk to grab paperwork she could deliver on her way to another office. Pick something small, something positive, something helpful – something unexpected – to show you really pay attention.

Pick out details and employees know you’re watching – in a good way – and not only will they work harder, more importantly they will feel better about themselves.

4. They give a peek inside.

My boss was scolding a supplier who hadn’t met a key timeline. When the supplier glanced away my boss winked at me. He was signaling that his emotional display was partly for effect and that I was in on it. I was an insider. We were partners.

We were in it together.

It’s easy, as an employee, not to feel like you and your boss are in it together. Make sure your employees do. Give them occasional peeks inside.

5. They give an undeserved compliment.

Compliments don’t always have to be earned. Sometimes a compliment can be like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When you see something in employees that they don’t see – at least not yet – they often try hard to fulfill the belief you have in them.

That happened to me. I went out for wrestling in ninth grade and was nervous, scared, intimidated – pick any fearful adjective. It fit. A week or so into practices I heard the coach talking to one of the seniors. “That kid there,” he said, referring to me, “will be a state champion by the time he’s a senior.”

He was wrong. It turned out I wasn’t. But I immediately felt more confident, more self-assured and incredibly motivated. Those feelings lasted for a long time.

He believed in me. And I started to believe in myself.

6. They give a hat rack.

Employees who need a day off, a favor, a break, or a chance will often come to you with hat in hand.

They’re vulnerable because they’re in need.

Take their hat and hang it up for them. You may not be able to provide what they want, but you can work through their issue with compassion and generosity and grace.

Never let an employee stand with hat in hand. It’s one of the worst feelings possible – and one you can instantly make disappear.


Jeff Haden lives in Harrisonburg and is a bestselling ghostwriter and columnist for Inc. Magazine.  He can be reached at