How to be an effective, empathetic leader

When I learned that this edition of Smart Business included the Smart 50 Awards recognizing the top executives of the 50 smartest companies in Northeast Ohio, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to talk about leadership and see how it compares to the winners.

There can be many types of leaders for different types of situations. For example, in the book “Time to Lead,” by Jan-Benedict Steenkamp, Franklin Roosevelt is cited as a Persuasive Leader for his ability to change his followers and not himself. Martin Luther King Jr. is cited as a Servant Leader, who put his followers ahead of himself. The book describes seven types of leaders who, through history, have done great things in their own way to effect a great result.

As the founding partner of Evolution Capital Partners and having been president or leader of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, I have had to find my own way and my own style that works for me. What have I learned about what it means to be a leader focuses on a few important concepts. First, I believe that leaders need to adapt to changing times to ensure they and the organizations they lead remain competitive and relevant but should always remain anchored in their own core values. A simple example would be that, although I am very determined, I never allow that determination to carry over into breaking the rules and laws.

Second is spending much more time thinking of others and not of myself. I believe that people who join an organization I am leading have altered their lives and careers to make a bet on me as someone that can help them do better or feel more fulfilled. I take that responsibility very seriously and, as a result, I need to put myself into their shoes more often to help me understand how to optimize their performance and happiness. For example, if someone shares with me that some important event is coming up in three weeks, on the 20th day following that conversation, I will send a note saying, “good luck,” or “I am rooting for your success.”

Third, I believe you need to be a master communicator. I don’t necessarily mean what words come out of your mouth, but your actions and reactions to things that are done or said. I always remind our CEOs that everyone is watching what they do in good times and bad, so pay attention to not just what you say but to what you do. Examples include showing empathy when someone makes an honest mistake, or working as hard or harder than everyone else.

Finally, paint a vision of where you want an organization to go that will excite and energize the entire team. You need to articulate how it impacts everyone, what’s in it for them and why their contributions to that vision are critical. Galvanizing a team around a vision that everyone understands and is excited about yields incredible results. Alignment is fundamental to the success of an organization, or any endeavor, and it’s important to create a vision that brings as many people along as possible without diluting the path to achieve that vision.

Everyone has to make their own way as a leader. Ultimately, leaders are authentic, and you have to be yourself to be the best leader you can be.

Jeffrey Kadlic is founding partner Evolution Capital Partners