5 Steps to Better Leadership


What’s your leadership grade? The Plank Center Report Card suggests our professional leadership is pretty average (C+). Long-time employee concerns about their PR leaders remain—two-way communication, empowerment, equality, engagement and trust. Resolving these issues doesn’t necessitate a radical remake of leadership, but it does require upgrading our leadership software. These five non-glamorous but vital steps can grow your leadership:

1. Humanize. Small language and behavior changes help humanize you as a leader and pay big dividends, says Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, author, teacher and executive coach to Fortune 500 CEOs. For example, he advises leaders to stop saying “no” and “however,” as in “That’s a great idea but….” Used too often these words deflate and de-energize. On the other hand, smile and say “thank you” more often. Also, remember leadership is about “we,” not “I.” Small changes like these personalize your leadership and boost your standing with employees (and your spouse!).

2. Equalize. We all seek fair and equal treatment in the work place: equal pay, opportunity, voice in decision making, attention and so forth. How you treat people of diverse genders, races, ages, and creeds is highly visible. You have the power as a leader to eliminate inequalities, so no excuses, please: you correct inequalities in your team, or you don’t. The extent to which equality is practiced and perceived strongly influences trust, engagement, productivity and retention.

3. Self-reflect. To improve continuously as a leader, take a few minutes each day to talk to yourself—to think about your communications and behaviors: what you did, why, how and to what effect on others. Could you have done it better, or involved others? Self-awareness growing out of reflection is the foundation of great leadership—the richest source for improving our leadership and managing our egos. Yes, reflection takes time, but the benefits in decision-making, team building and trust are huge.

4. Listen. In our noisy, message-saturated world, listening is the lost part of communication, though it’s at least 50% of the process. Fifty years of research reveal the number one complaint of employees, every year, is: “My boss doesn’t listen to me.” Sound familiar? Becoming a more active listener is hard work and takes time. However, the less we listen, the more we misunderstand, weaken relationships, impair engagement and tilt toward poor decisions. Attend a workshop or webinar on active listening. Get a listening coach. Ask trusted colleagues for candid feedback. Practice, practice, practice.

5. Enrich. You can enrich your employees’ attitudes, work, workplace and growth in many ways. Share performance feedback routinely, especially with Millennials. Prepare real development plans to build their capabilities and provide a sense of future. Conduct a workshop on business essentials for your team. Celebrate, reward and recognize accomplishments—personal, informal approaches work best. Bring positive energy to work to inspire, motivate and build commitment. If you don’t do this, then don’t expect your employees to do so.

As far as I know, you can’t go out and buy a bottle of secret leadership sauce, but you can upgrade your leadership software by taking these five steps. The good news: it’s all in your hands. Go for it. We need many more effective, ethical and excellent leaders in our profession.

Bruce-Berger-261x300Bruce K. Berger, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus, Advertising and Public Relations, University of Alabama, and Research Director of the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at UA. Before entering academia, he spent 21 years as a communication professional and executive with two global corporations. He can be reached at: berger@apr.ua.edu.


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