There are four key attributes associated with leaders who bring the best out in their followers. First, these leaders are charismatic. They are perceived as having a special magnetic charm that makes others want to emulate them and seek their approval. Second, they are inspirational. They communicate a compelling vision that others enthusiastically embrace to fulfill a common higher moral purpose. Third, they show individualized concern. And fourth, they stimulate and challenge their followers.
On their own, however, these attributes are insufficient. Espousing charisma, inspiring, challenging and caring only set the stage for effective leadership. You must earn the respect, loyalty and trust of your followers. How? By building one-on-one relationships with your employees.
Mutual trust and loyalty develop over one-on-one face-to-face exchanges between you and your workers. But that involves more than just a conversation by the water cooler. Career enhancing opportunities you provide to your employees are reciprocated in ever-increasing levels of work proficiency and organizational citizenship behaviour.
Remember when you were just starting out in your career and your boss took a chance and assigned an important project to you? When employees are given opportunities to shine and develop, they are likely to reflect positively on both you and your organization, even after the project has finished. And in return, the employees are likely to trust that you will reward their performance and give them further opportunities.
This doesn’t mean you have to shell out more money for every exemplar employee. Rewards can be as simple as increased autonomy, access to privileged information or more opportunities to develop.
The result of these relationships that you’re building with your individual employees will be superb “citizenship behaviour.” They will work hard, help co-workers, volunteer for special assignments, exude loyalty and be great ambassadors for your organization.
What you need to do is personalize your organization. In large companies, interacting one-on-one, face-to-face with employees is sometimes a challenge. CEOs cannot personally connect with each and every employee, so it is up to the middle managers to build the bond between an employee and the organization. As a direct manager or supervisor, you must manage the one-on-one exchanges that build trust and loyalty over time if you are to realize and sustain superior performance and behaviour from your followers.
When building these bonds, your role is to personalize the organization to the employee. You are the one who brings personal meaning to the vision and organizational goals espoused by senior executives. Also, it is through you, the manager, that employees come to see that by embracing the vision and achieving the goals of the organization, they also benefit.
People, by their very genetic nature, are social beings and seek social exchanges with their organization–typically through the agents of the organization, their supervisor or manager. If a company cuts middle-management positions, senior managers must determine other configurations that will fulfil these roles.
It comes down to a type of golden rule of working: do well unto your employees, and they will do well unto you. An effective leader is sensitive to employee contributions and reciprocates in ways that build that employee’s skills and confidence. An effective leader links the achievement of organizational goals to the fulfillment of an employee’s own goals, with the former advancing the latter. By developing stronger bonds you can truly impact employee performance.
To ensure you have the best leaders possible at your organization, make relationship-building strategies part of your leadership development programs. All of the lauded leadership qualities, like being charismatic and inspirational, and caring about employees, will only take you so far. Leaders who do not reciprocate to employees or fail to give them their due recognition will be less effective than they could be.
The moral of this story is that we must go beyond teaching leaders to espouse charisma, inspiration, individualized concern and intellectual challenge. That paradigm is unilateral, underscoring a prescriptive mentality of what leaders should do to their employees. Rather, effective leaders must earn the respect, trust and loyalty of their followers over time through reciprocal social exchanges. Charisma, inspiration, challenge and concern for employees will bear fruit only when authentically rooted in a relationship of mutual trust and loyalty.