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Effective leadership
Effective leadership: it's the little things

Master coach David Thompson offers 5 tips, for improving relationships and earning influence at work

Text David Thompson
Photography Courtesy
Leaders can make a major difference in the lives of the people around them by being aware of the impact of the little things.

In this article, we offer 5 tips for improving relationships and earning influence at work.

It's the way you stroke my hair while I am sleepin';
It's the way you tell me things I don't know.
It's the way you remember I came home late for dinner
Eleven months and fourteen days ago
It's the little things, the little bitty things,
Like the way that you remind me I've been growin' soft:
It's the little things, the itty bitty things,
It's the little things

That piss me off.

Robert Earl Keen, Jr. It's The Little Things

We've all been there. We all know easily little things can wind us up and just how much negative impact they can have on a relationship. But what we often forget is the amazing difference the little things can make when we get them right.

This is particularly true when it comes to managing and leading people. Leaders spend a great deal of time focused on the big picture. They are expected to provide vision, direction and a sense of purpose and many of them do. The challenge lies in translating a far-reaching vision into daily action.

What's interesting, though, is how easily you can awaken inspiration through the regular use of simple tools and techniques to build rapport, earn trust and enhance relationships with colleagues and reports the little things.

So what are the little things you can to live your values and communicate with integrity and influence?
Here's a simple list to get started:

1. Remember: You're Always Communicating. In fact, it's impossible to not communicate. Whether or not you're speaking, you're always giving off non-verbal messages to the people around you. Many people suggest that non-verbal communication makes up more than 90% of the effect we have on other people. Our words communicate less than 10% of the meaning people take away. Take stock of yourself right now. What is your facial expression saying? What is your body and posture telling other people? What can you change to make that message more positive? How can you use your awareness of your non-verbal communication to have a more powerfully positive impact on the people around you?

2. Learn to listen: Stop talking, remove distractions, and put your focus on the person talking to you. Instead of waiting for your turn to speak or comment on what's being said, allow yourself to really listen and allow the other person to be heard.

3. Match & mirror: People like what they are like. In other words, people find it easier to connect with someone who is like them. So, if you want to establish a positive connection with someone, match them. Sit or stand like they do. Match their volume and pace. Incorporate some of the words they use into your statements. This simple technique when applied with subtlety and respect shows people that you're interested in them, without their being consciously aware of it.

4. Kick 'but': The traditional approach to providing feedback is usually about pointing out strengths and then identifying areas for improvement. Most people do this by saying "You did X, Y & Z really well, BUT . . ." And we all know what happens after the BUT. We forget everything that came before, and all of our attention goes to the critical feedback. Practice providing day-to-day encouragement that recognises what people are doing well and identifying the action you'd like them to add. "You did X, Y & Z really well. You'll make that even better by . . ."

5. Take responsibility: It's easy to blame problems or difficult decisions on higher-ups. Many people avoid responsibility for a situation with phrases like, "I know it's idiotic, but headquarters is insisting on this policy," or "we know the right approach, but the bosses are making us do it this way." While that might make you seem like 'one of the gang,' it only undermines your status as a leader. Instead, when communicating an unpopular policy, be willing to stand up for it. If you really can't abide it, then you have to ask yourself why you're working there. Recognise the validity of other points of view while encouraging support for the idea.

Practice using these techniques, and assess your results. You will find a positive difference. The thing about the little things is that in a pretty short period of time, they add up to something big.