When leaders are faced with the choice between giving their employees an ill-fitting vest adorned with the company logo, a gift card destined for regifting, or taking a gamble on whether a bottle of wine will be well-received, it's not surprising that many struggle to add a personal touch beyond the standard company bonus. The right gift can convey sincere appreciation for a job well done and inspire strong performance in the year to come, while the wrong gift can leave colleagues feeling distinctly unappreciated. Negotiating the fine line of appropriate gift-giving at work often leads most leaders to settle for a simple handshake and heartfelt wish for a happy new year as colleagues head out the door for the holiday break.
However, when leaders give nothing at all, they miss an opportunity to offer something with far more meaning than anything wrapped with a bow. Leaders can have a profound impact on the quality of their colleagues' daily lives and hold the power to transform the working experience into something truly fulfilling. When the office holiday decorations are put away and we gather again to face the year ahead, the best gifts a leader can give involve cultivating strong, nurturing, and supportive partnerships with employees. In this leadership lesson, we move away from the cliché expressions of the season and embrace what it means to give the holiday gifts employees truly desire.
1. Always keep your word
Trust, as defined by Brené Brown, is the decision to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else. Employees have to be able to trust their leaders to protect their professional interests and cultivate their career potential. Therefore the best gift a leader can give is to establish and protect trust in their professional partnerships. Leaders go a long way toward earning trust when they are reliable, admit their mistakes, maintain the confidence others place in them, and act with integrity by choosing courage over comfort.
2. Be generous with your good opinion
Although seldom recognized, one of the best gifts a leader can give their colleagues is the benefit of their good opinion. Leaders who operate from a place of non-judgment and assume the best from team members reduce the need for defensive acts of self-protection. Be generous with interpretations, offer employees the benefit of the doubt, assume good intentions, and always believe in the best versions of who they are.
3. Get off their backs
In a world of looming deadlines and increasing demands, it's tempting to manage high expectations by exerting excessive control and accountability with our teams. However, micromanagement and excessive detail focus only limits autonomy and disempowers otherwise motivated individuals. Embrace a coaching leadership style, grant the team decision-making authority, and show that you believe in their ability to rise to the occasion and make good decisions.
4. Focus on strengths over weaknesses
Instead of fixating on problems, deficits, and gaps between expectations and reality, redirect your focus toward leveraging individual strengths. Recognize where each team member excels and empower them to apply their strengths in new and evolving ways to benefit themselves, the team, and the company. Celebrate when strengths reach new heights and convey appreciation for the advantages individual strengths bring to the team.
5. Take time to understand before you intervene
Leaders make sound decisions when they ask thoughtful questions, listen carefully, and pause to reflect before making choices about how to intervene. Employees benefit from leaders who set a positive example by ensuring they have all the information, checking the validity of their assumptions, and exploring issues from multiple perspectives before making decisions.
6. Protect work-life balance
Protecting work-life balance is more than avoiding emails on nights and weekends. It involves insisting that your employees take uninterrupted time to recharge, granting schedule flexibility to tend to overall well-being, and continuously expanding wellness benefits to emphasize a commitment to a balanced and healthy workforce. Caring about work-life balance also involves paying attention to signs of stress, burnout, and overwhelm, and taking a proactive approach to establishing a manageable workload. Resist the urge to require justification from employees when they ask for personal time off and remember, the reasons why are really none of our business.
7. Invest in the long-term
Leaders grant an invaluable gift when they wear their "mentor hats" and contribute to the long-term career development of team members. Create opportunities for continued growth and development, offer counsel on long-term career goals, and allow team members to benefit from the wisdom in your career experiences.
8. Make room for everyone at the table
One of the greatest gifts a leader can offer an employee is inclusion at the decision-making table. Inclusion grants us a position of influence and allows our perspective to contribute to the pool of ideas. The best leaders believe the best decisions are made when everyone has the chance to contribute and engage in deliberate decisions to ensure diverse perspectives are represented.
9. Become a staunch advocate
Although there may be private disagreements, good leaders publicly support and advocate for their teams. They generously share public praise and recognition, campaign for decisions that support the overall success of the team, and resist any urge to ever throw a team member under the proverbial bus. A unified front of unconditional public support is a leadership strength that cannot be overstated.
Leadership appreciation for a year of hard work is not solely about grand gestures or holiday gifts; it’s about consistently nurturing the relationships that make a difference in our professional lives. By dedicating themselves to giving the relationship gifts that have a positive impact on overall well-being and nurturing potential in others, leaders consciously cultivate a working culture where individuals can thrive. Beyond the holiday season, these principles form the foundation of a successful leadership journey, ensuring that employees have the support they need to truly excel.
Danielle Terranova is the voice behind Leadership Lessons with Danielle.
She has been an executive coach since 2015 and owner of Terranova Consulting, LLC since 2019.