Three Ways to Lead Well

When walking someone into an office or room do you go first or do you hold the door open for them so they enter the room first?

This simple image is the perfect word picture for leadership. Are you an authoritarian leader or a servant leader? If we draw this metaphor out a bit, we might see ideal leadership as walking into the room side-by-side, but that opportunity is rare.

So how can a leader simulate the shoulder-to-shoulder style described by entering a room together? There are three ways to execute this leadership style whenever someone is expressing a struggle or verbalizing a conflict with a project, task, or with another teammate.

All three of these are steps to be performed in sequence and not to be altered or edited. Collectively, they help solve problems, build relationships, and nurture growth.

1.     Restate

Whenever an employee or colleague verbalizes a problem or conflict an effective leader learns to restate it back to them. Do this without editorial or offering an opinion or suggestion. We do this to let them know they have been heard.

Study after study have shown that when a waiter or waitress restates the order back to the customer, the frequency and amount of tips increase greatly. Do this with your direct reports.

Example: “I’m having trouble getting through to Jennifer about meeting the deadline on her project. She’s not making it a priority.”

Reply: “Ok, you’re struggling to get Jennifer to prioritize projects by the date you need. Got it.”

Plain, simple, easy. Don’t complicate this step. Just “read it back.” They will feel heard. This is a big deal.

2.     Empathize 

Now we need to emotionally connect with the employee’s problem or conflict. This makes them feel cared for and understood. 

Reply: “Jennifer’s situation has you frustrated, anxious. I can see that. That can’t be a good feeling.” 

Again, we don’t want to necessarily agree with the issue. We don’t want to validate or approve of it. We simply want to restate it (got it) and empathize with it (feel it). 

3.     Contemporize

This stage is so often ignored. This is where you suggest that you’ve seen and overcome this problem or conflict before. When you do this, you’ve given the employee permission to release it. 

Reply: “I remember Rob had this same issue with Bill and we set a series of calendar reminders and now Bill is very reliable when it comes to deadlines.” 

This instills trust in the person that the leader has seen and conquered this problem or conflict. This is where it’s important for leaders to communicate horizontally with each other to share examples of times they’ve seen and fixed a problem. 

Reply: “Yeah, we’ve seen this before (using WE instead of I) when Tom over in accounting had used Slack to get all his direct reports focused on deadlines. It worked great”. 

This is where we borrow someone else’s experience to give confidence to the distressed employee. 

Look, leading and managing is hard. Walking into rooms side-by-side risks getting stuck or hitting a doorjamb now and again. But by Restating, Empathizing and Contemporizing, you widen the entryway and create authentic, meaningful relationships with people. 

Isn’t that better than being the boss? 



An image of a desk phone"I am out of the office until Friday. Apparently, the move to impeach me has entered the trial phase. But since I run all three branches, I suspect it won’t take long for me to ask myself questions, answer them and then vote "He's awesome!" Stay tuned.

In the meantime, thank you for being you."

Orignally posted February 2, 2020

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