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5 Smart Things New Bosses Do to Become Better Leaders Overnight, Backed by Considerable Science

Great companies, and great teams, are built by great leaders. That’s why Google spent considerable time identifying the key behaviors of its best team managers.

But what if you don’t have any leadership training? Or — more crucially, since everything I learned about leadership I learned the hard way — any leadership experience?

While it takes time to gain skill and experience, there are a few things you can start doing right away.

Be present, but not just in the way you think.

Being “present,” giving people your full attention, is obviously important. But so is simple presence.

study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that physical presence matters. You don’t have to talk a lot. You don’t have to interact a lot. You just have to be there.

As the researchers write, “Mere exposure had weak effects on familiarity, but strong effects on attraction and similarity.” Which is a fancy way of saying the more often we see you, the more we will like and respect you.

Granted, that’s hard when you’re a new leader. You’re unsure. You’re uncomfortable. You might be asked questions you can’t answer. You might be asked to handle situations you don’t know how to handle. It’s tempting to spend less time with the people you lead, not more.

But shying away actually makes your leadership life harder: Not only do you get less chances to gain skill and experience, but you also lose out on the positive affect of just being present. So if you are nervous about not having the answers, flip it around and ask questions. If you are unsure you can handle certain situations, ask people for advice. Let people help you lead.

Not only will you become a better leader, you’ll also build a better, more engaged team.

Yet at the same time, hold a lot less meetings.

Ninety percent of employees feel meetings are “costly” and “unproductive,” and they’re right: Employee productivity increases by over 70 percent when meetings are reduced by 40 percent. 

Why? Fewer meetings gives employees more time to get things done. 

And makes them smarter; one study found that when employees attend meetings, the average IQ of each individual drops by between 15 and 20 percent. For one thing, if you feel like a “junior” member of a group, your IQ drops. (As in most situations, confidence matters a lot.) If you feel your contributions won’t be valued, your IQ drops more. And if other people criticize (overtly or implicitly) your contributions, your IQ drops even more. 

That’s why great bosses hold fewer meetings, especially when the goal is to brainstorm or problem-solve. Idea generation dramatically improves when people first come up with ideas by themselves, or with at most one or two others. That typically leads to greater diversity in ideas, better analysis of the pros and cons of those ideas, and much greater odds of a larger group — if you eventually decide to convene a larger group — eventually identifying the best idea.

So be present, but in the real work world. Not the make-believe work world of meetings.

Never serve the dreaded “feedback sandwich.”

You’ve probably heard you should deliver constructive feedback by starting with a positive, sharing the negative, and then closing with another positive.

But you shouldn’t, because feedback sandwiches are really tough to swallow. According to a study published in Management Review Quarterlya feedback sandwich almost always fails to correct negative or subpar behaviors. Three out of four recipients feel manipulated. Nine out of ten feel patronized.

And only 7 percent actually change the meat described in the feedback sandwich.

Instead, just be clear. Be direct. And be encouraging. While few employees want to hear how they can improve, good employees appreciate the knowledge.

And they will respect you for being open and candid, especially when you don’t patronize them in the process.

Yet at the same time, focus mostly on positives.

No matter how it’s delivered, though, research shows that after a few days — or even a few hours — people typically forget the negative feedback they receive

But they remember positive feedback for a long time.

Not just the positive (“You did a great job improving fulfillment process flow”) but also the facts accompanying the positive (“And as a result, our shipping costs are down 7 percent and our on-time delivery rate is up 11 percent.”)

Want employees to be more patient when dealing with customer complaints? Praise them when they take extra time to make things right. Want them to spend extra time training struggling employees? Praise them when they step in, unasked, to help a person in need.

In short, focus on positives. Tell people you appreciate their hard work, not just in general but in specific. Explain why that makes a difference, not just to your business, but to you. 

They’ll remember how good it feels to do something well, and will want to experience that feeling again.

Which also makes it a lot less likely you’ll need to share negative feedback. 

Most of all, say “thank you.” A lot.

Studies show that nearly nine out of 10 people wish they heard “thank you” in their daily interactions. More specifically, other research shows a direct link between gratitude and job satisfaction: The more “thank you” becomes a part of a company’s culture, the more likely employees are to enjoy their jobs. 

But wait, there’s more: Research also shows that grateful leaders motivate their employees to be more productive.

In short, pay is an exchange for effort. It’s a transaction. You pay people to do their jobs.

But you should also thank the people you work with — as often as possible — for how well they do their jobs. For being responsive. For being proactive. For being cooperative, helpful, and supportive. 

Because every employee is also a person, and every person wants to be thanked more often.

And because we all flourish in environments — whether at work or at home — where expectation does not preclude appreciation. 

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