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Employees Don’t See Their Leaders as Real People

Sometimes, leaders look too good to be real humans in the eyes of employees. In fact, in an article for Harvard Business Review, Nathan T. Washburn and Benjamin Galvin propose that most employees do in fact have only an illusory, imaginary idea of who their leaders are. This can work for or against leaders, so here are some tips to get imaginations flowing in a positive direction.

The Afterimage

Building a leadership image is beneficial in prying trust and faith out of employees, and motivating them to work hard for worthy reasons. However, leaders still need to convey a sense of humanity and make connections with employees at the same time. Either way, here are the four rules that Washburn and Galvin have found affect the way that people perceive their leaders:

  1. Employees “judge a book by its cover.” It’s faster.
  2. Employees want to know if the leader cares about them, feels relatable, and sets high standards.
  3. Employees want to get their answers to above concerns via stories, which in turn create a mental picture of the leader.
  4. Employees only retain the stories that sound candid and come from informal channels (probably not the company newsletter).

Meanwhile, there are four key characteristics that leaders should have in order to build a successful personal branding in their organizations:

  • Caring: Reach out to employees and help them when they need it.
  • High standards: Make employees exercise their independence and strive for the best.
  • A vision: Create a compelling narrative story that displays the mission of the company and what you are seeking to achieve.
  • Humanity: Disclose your flaws and weaknesses to show that you’re just like any other human being.

Bill Gates is a good example for Microsoft’s excellent leadership image. Gates is not only a great strategic thinker, but he is also well-known and respected for his modest lifestyle and moral treatment of his subordinates. Because of this, his image is closer to that of employees and other people as a leader who is talented, caring, and does thing in an ethical manner.

As leaders, we need to keep a certain distance from our subordinates, but don’t go too far, because closeness creates a more “real” image. Washburn and Galvin suggest this:

As we’ve pointed out before, the best way to get your story out there is through surrogates, employees who have had inspiring interactions with you and spread the stories throughout the organization. These individuals amplify your concern, standards, vision, and humanity.

But even if you lack surrogates, rest assured that if you keep doing the right things, people will eventually notice and spread positive stories about you. And those stories will form themselves into an army of mental images that will mobilize people to achieve your goals.

Being a great leader is not hard. Be a good person and a good mentor first; then your reputation will naturally grow. You can view the original article here: https://hbr.org/2017/01/followers-dont-see-their-leaders-as-real-people

About My Nguyen

Profile photo of My Nguyen
My is a staff writer for AITS. She has a varied background in writing and marketing, having previously worked for the World & Vietnam Report among others.

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