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The Behavior of a Leader

By: Edward T. Reilly, Editor

The behavior of leadership might best be summed up by the acronym SPARK, meaning:
• Share Information.
• Play to Strengths.
• Ask for Input and Appreciate Different Ideas.
• Recognize and Respond to Individual Needs.
• Keep Your Commitments.

Let’s look at these five characteristics.

Share Information
One of the factors consistently mentioned in surveys to assess employee engagement is “being in on things.” Your team wants to know what’s going on. If there are rumors, address them. If there are new business directions, share these. Show employees that they are valued by you and the organization by sharing information with them.
Here are tips to apply the S to ignite commitment:

• Be honest. Candor matters. Candor is essential to trust.
• Treat employees like the adults they are. Adults want to know what is going on with the organization. It’s about something very important to them—their livelihood.
• Don’t be afraid to reveal your own feelings. People welcome self-play -disclosure.
• If times are good, share and celebrate. If times are bad, be honest and ask for ideas.
• Don’t think you have to have all the answers. If you don’t know, say so. Then try to find out the facts.
• Be open to ideas from your team. People closest to the work are the ones who know best how to accomplish it.

Play to Strengths
Following are tips to apply the P in SPARK to your efforts to ignite commitments:

• The best way to identify strengths is to connect on a human level. That doesn’t mean being “best friends” with your employees; it just means showing (and sharing) an interest in people and who they are outside of work as well as on the job.
• Friendly, casual conversation comes more easily to some managers than others. If it is not natural to you, don’t fake it. Phony is even worse—and people can tell.
• How can you develop your empathy? Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Think about how you would feel in a similar situation. Focus on the employee instead of yourself.
• Looking at strengths is not “going soft.” You can still hold people to high standards, make tough decisions, and be “the boss.”
• You pay attention to other people’s strengths by recognizing and acknowledging them. This is crucial for people to gain confidence and succeed.

Ask for Input and Appreciate Different Ideas
The A in SPARK has dual meanings and serves as a reminder that you need to listen to the response to any question. Asking for input, but then also appreciating the answers, lets employees know that you care about what they think. Does every communication between you and an employee require asking first? Of course not. But when it concerns coaching, resolving issues, solving problems, or changing procedures, you will benefit greatly from gathering ideas first. The principle is simple: Treat employees like adults.
Following are tips to apply the A in SPARK to your efforts to ignite commitment:
• A psychological recession sets in when fear and loss of control take over. Asking people for their ideas and approaches to situations returns some of that control to them.
• People closest to the work have the best ideas how to do it. Let them correlate. It will make everyone’s job easier.
• When coaching, asking questions first makes the process two-way and helps ensure the employee’s commitment to improving performance.
• Asking questions does not mean asking rhetorical or leading questions. If you already know the answer and know what you’re going to say, don’t insult the employee’s intelligence by asking a pointless question.

Recognize and Respond to Individual Needs
When you recognize and respond to individual needs, you must demonstrate the R for respect. Here are tips to apply the R part of the SPARK model to ignite commitment:
• Make sure that recognition is genuine and tailored to what the employee values.
• Provide rewards and recognition often.
• Offer praise that shows you (1) are paying attention to what the employee does and (2) value the employee’s work.
• If there is a team success, have a team celebration. You can also celebrate an honest failure as a way to recognize what you learned and to send the message that innovation and risk taking are valued.
• Understand the impact of generational differences.

Keep Your Commitments
And now to the K in SPARK: Keeping your commitment:
• Nothing can break trust more quickly than failing to keep commitments. If you ask employees for ideas, the expectation is that these ideas will be acted on in some way. If you make a commitment to follow up, be sure to do so—and then get back to the employee.
• Commitments are not just those responsibilities that you as a manager undertake. The organization, too, makes commitments to the employee. This “conditional commitment”  is the implied promise that the organization will deliver X to the employee—salary, benefits, opportunity, and so on—for the employee’s promise to deliver Y—discretionary effort, target goal, quota, time, and so on. If the organization fails to live up to its side of the bargain in some way, employees will see no reason to keep their commitments.

Here are tips to apply the K of the SPARK model to ignite commitment:
• Follow up on employee ideas and suggestions.
• If the conditional commitment between the organization and the employee is in jeopardy, take immediate action to reestablish the balance.
• As the manager, you are the face of the organization. Live up to your commitments and you’ll be sending the message that the organization is also living up to its commitments.
• You are already leading by example; make sure it’s a good one.

Excerpted, by permission of the publisher, from AMA Business Boot Camp: Management and Leadership Fundamentals That Will See You Successfully through Your Career. Edited by Edward T. Reilly. Copyright 2013, American Management Association. Published by AMACOM. For more information, visit http://www.amacombooks.org/