Even to this day, Heather Younger would still do anything for her aunt.
Younger told attendees at Lawn & Landscape’s Top 100 event that in her childhood, her family dealt with fractured relationships with relatives because Younger’s mother was white and Jewish and her father was black and Christian.
But Younger’s aunt often reached out, showed how she cared, and even sent her Hanukkah gifts.
“She didn’t know it at the time, but she was a caring leader,” Younger said. “She was a leader with heart. Those small actions…stamped her in mind as a caring leader.”
This same philosophy can be applied to leadership in business, Younger said. This opinion is verified by 25,000 reviews of employee survey results across various industries. Anecdotally, she also remembers meeting with top-level executives like Garry Ridge at WD-40, who said his company jumped from $30 million in revenue to billions of dollars.
The difference for him? “In his mind, it was about putting people first,” Younger said.
“Organizations are just legal entities,” she added. “The people that walk inside them make up the culture. Employee experience is about the emotions.”
START WITH YOURSELF. To make changes to your leadership style, Younger believes you have to start with yourself.
She likens the relationship between the self and employees to a tea cup and a saucer – what happens with many leaders is that they give from the dryness after sipping their whole cup. Instead, they should give people the overflow that hits the saucer because one has filled their own cup by exercising often, reading, praying, meditating – finding the things that lift their spirits.
Younger also told the Top 100 executives that they should exclusively focus on what they can influence and what they can control. Beyond that, it’s stressing stuff they can’t change and taking away from time they could focus on the things they can actually influence.
“I control and influence me the most,” Younger said. “It starts with me the most.”
CREATE A LISTENING CULTURE. Younger said that she’s discovered a five-step process on the right way to listen. After all, it’s a skill that could be essential to keeping employees.
“Who wants to leave a place where they feel heard?” Younger asked the attendees.
- Recognize what’s not being said: Younger suggested asking yourself if there’s something being ignored, if there’s an elephant in the room. Is the team comfortable enough approaching you with what’s not being said?
- Seek to understand: Younger said repeating back what you think you heard they said is important, as is noticing unspoken cues like body language. An example of seeking to understand: “I can see that you’re flustered. Here’s what I think I heard you say. Did I hear you right?”
- Reflect on what you hear: It’s so much easier to knee-jerk react and overcorrect in an effort to fix. Tell your employees that you’re going to take some time to reflect on what they said and ponder the best way forward.
- Affirm through action: Once you’ve developed a gameplan after reflection, implement the change.
- Close the loop: Younger said this means following up with the employee after making a change. She’s heard things like, “Thanks for the feedback. You helped us see so many blind spots. I found out you were right.” This assures them of their value and encourages them to come back next time with any other concerns.
EMPOWER YOUR WORKERS. Younger urged leaders to provide clear runways to make their own decisions and guidance on their actions, but to largely stay out of the way.
In other words, don’t micromanage. If you can’t trust your employees, there’s a larger problem at play.
“If I didn’t hire the right people, that’s my issue, not theirs,” Younger said.
Younger clarified that empowerment is not just doling out tasks for the sake of doing it. It’s also not just checking out and relaxing while they do all the work. She reminded the attendees that their employees still need guardrails – clear expectations on what needs done and some suggestions on how it can be accomplished.
Beyond that, it’s all about letting the workers do what they do best – work.
“(Empowerment) helps someone self-actualize what they want to do more, achieve more, in their workplace,” Younger said.