How to Lead by Leaning on Your Team

(From Mainebiz) – When you’re a first-time CEO, you learn pretty quickly that you “don’t know what you don’t know,” as they say. Fortunately, I had been part of University Credit Union’s senior leadership team for a decade before I became its President and CEO in December 2019. So when, just weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic transformed life and business as we know it overnight, I knew I couldn’t do it alone.

In my view, lacking experience and lacking your own experience are very different. As leaders, we must have the perspective and humility to recognize that our employees are our greatest source of talent and insight into our business. Just because we haven’t done something, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I believe tapping into this talent demands setting ego aside and inviting the input of others through open communication. For example:

Be an Active Listener

Active listening means making a conscious effort to understand someone else’s message and worrying less about your own ideas. More importantly, it means creating space for your team to feel comfortable sharing ideas that might be different from yours. Value their expertise by including them in your decision-making process.

In the early days of the pandemic, there were so many unknowns. My senior leadership team and I stayed in close communication with our employees so they would understand the “why” behind decisions affecting them. In the absence of information, people come to their own conclusions, which is counter-productive.

Good communication is all about active listening. Don’t think about the next thing you want to say when listening to others; you might miss a great idea or an inspiring comment. When you have the floor, ask specific and strategic follow-up questions. Ask how and why someone came to a conclusion. This will ensure you have full understanding and may prompt others to develop their ideas further. The goal is to find new threads in the conversation, which may lead to fresh ideas and perspectives. Productive communication is creative communication, not just an exchange of information.

Be Clear

When you do communicate, be clear about what you’re expecting from your team. It’s your responsibility to ensure the growth and success of every employee and serve their needs first. When you prioritize employees, they prioritize members and it becomes your culture.

Be Human

Have you ever written out an email, read it back to yourself out loud and winced? In business, we rarely write how we actually speak. We’re all human—let’s talk like it. Be fun. Be colorful. When tough conversations come, employees will appreciate knowing you’re talking on their level.

I try to communicate in a way that’s informative, interesting, and authentically positive and constructive for my team. Don’t underestimate the power of bright colors, fun fonts, and graphics in emails! It takes more time, but it’s worth it in the long-run. Creativity will breed creativity among others who will follow suit with approaches they may not otherwise have thought of (or felt comfortable trying).

One way to be creative in communication is sharing anecdotes from your everyday life to support your points. Anecdotes convey abstract ideas in a concrete fashion, making those ideas easier to retain. We remember stories, not descriptions. Inspiration can come from things as simple as a book you’re reading or your morning commute to work. Take note when something seemingly random reminds you of a current project. Ask yourself why it reminded you of that project and consider sharing.

About the Author

Renee Ouellette is President and CEO of University Credit Union.