I can recall being on a dais at a national conference, not really engaged in the act of listening to the speaker. In fact, my facial expressions and my body language screamed that I was very disinterested. I did not realize how this was coming across, until one of my loyal staff members in the audience managed to catch my eye, and with one blunt stare and tilt of her head, she mouthed the words, “People are watching you.”
I understood how important it was for a leader to project confidence and interest, even if they are simply in a “listening mode.” This is one of those great soft skills that is often misunderstood and far too many times underutilized. Honestly, how hard would it have been for me to at least look interested and engaged? The lack of focus on my part not only reflected badly on me but was simultaneously a bad reflection on my organization. This lesson taught me that leaders have influence, even if they aren’t uttering a word. As a leader, people are watching you at all times. In fact, people are watching that you may not even know about. This is one reason why the soft skills are so important in leadership.
One of the leaders I really admire is the former chairman of PepsiCo, Roger Enrico. Roger was asked about how an organization could drive accountability and results by improving effectiveness in a few key overlooked areas. Expecting an answer that would be along the lines of productivity, managing to the bottom line, growing net revenue etc., Roger quickly focused on another area. He stated, “The soft stuff is the hard stuff.”
A value-centered leader, I believe, will recognize that the soft stuff really matters. Respect, integrity, teamwork and excellence really do have a place in the everyday functioning of leaders. At my organization, we refer to those as the R.I.T.E. way to work. Let’s explore what those four things really mean.
Respect is having compassion or empathy for others and valuing others’ expertise and perspectives, while also holding oneself to a high level of integrity.
Integrity means that we are personally and professionally responsible to each other, our donors and volunteers and that we are fostering an environment of trust and setting the standard for accountability in our industry.
Teamwork means that through collaboration with internal and external partners, we generate the greatest impact on health and human service needs in our communities.
Then, lastly, excellence refers to striving to excel in all areas of performance, improving our workplace through continuous learning, providing world-class customer service and creating an atmosphere of growth, allowing everyone to reach their full potential.
I view people as our greatest asset. The gesture of speaking to the staff, asking questions and showing interest is more than the nice thing to do. It is a vital business strategy that far too often goes unattended in today’s workplace. I like to walk around our office, and ask people if they know our mission, vision and business goals. It gives me a chance to engage them in conversation, first at the organization level, then at a personal level. It is vitally important that you know your team. Not just the ones at the top, but, all of them. Each is a vital and key link in the success of the organization. Ignoring this will ultimately bring an organization to its knees. Those that see a genuine leader, who really cares about them, will go the extra mile. Call it “soft stuff,” if you wish. I call it vital and necessary for overall success. People are watching, and I hope you are paying attention.
Gary G. Godsey is CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. He has more than 30 years of experience at the CEO level, managing nonprofit organizations around the United States. Godsey is an accomplish speaker and leader in the nonprofit sector.