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September 4, 2019 Peggy Liu

Good leadership means leaving room for interpretation

Good communication is great, but the willingness to leave room for employees to interpret your instructions is necessary if you want to encourage growth.

What does it mean to be a good leader? 

Traditionally, a respected leader (in the business world or otherwise) was decisive and unyielding to the degree of being unapproachable and controlling. A leader was unafraid to lay down the law for the simple reason that they expected to be followed without question or complaint.

Thanks to recent changes in our cultural norms and technological advances, this autocratic form of business leadership has evolved, veering away from a rigid, micromanaging style towards one that is more focused on emotional intelligence and creative flexibility. 

Most progressive companies nowadays avoid adhering to the traditional leadership archetype by encouraging their leaders to be more collaborative and empathetic. Studies have shown that micromanaging or even punishing employees for their mistakes will only hurt your business’s success. Such measures cause employees to avoid taking risks and hesitate taking ownership of their actions for fear of punishment. 

Successful businesses are often headed by people who understand the effects of empathetic leadership: employees respond more positively to leaders who exercises less control and instead are willing to delegate and encourage independent, creative thinking.

There’s more to being an effective leader than a trendy mug.

But if you’re a small business owner, employer, or manager and you struggle with the notion of empowering your employees, you’re not crazy. It may feel counterintuitive at first to step back and allow your employees space to interpret their tasks. Giving up some measure of control may even make you feel threatened or wary, but trusting your employee’s decision-making abilities comes with a slew of comes with a slew of benefits

Giving your employees generous boundaries is a good way to figure out if they truly understand your company values and vision. Not to mention, this gesture of trust will contribute to developing stronger work relationships. Problems get solved faster when people aren’t afraid of being punished for out-of-the-box thinking or making mistakes, and job satisfaction increases when employees feel like they have more control in their work. All of these will contribute to better mental health in the workplace and a more positive company culture, which in turn will translate to producing quality work and better sales results.

Many people prize having good communication skills, but the willingness to leave room for employees to interpret your instructions is necessary if you want to encourage individual and company-level growth, especially when it comes to customer service. Believing in your employees’ ability to demonstrate excellent customer service means allowing them to style their interactions in their own unique ways. The quality of customer service can be made or broken by the level of authenticity present on the provider’s side, so it’s important to give your frontline workers generous boundaries; this way, they are free to work within their judgement and out of a genuine desire to serve instead of enacting a structured script.

Being a good leader isn’t always easy. It occasionally means sacrificing any idealistic scenarios in which you would have made a different call or acted another way, but you don’t have to always agree with your employees to be a good leader. In fact, celebrating your employee’s decisions and creativity, even if they don’t align with yours, demonstrates that you truly value the people you work with. 

The bottom line of what it means to be a leader? It’s that a leader isn’t someone who has the most control or makes the most money. A leader is someone who doesn’t demand respect from others but instead respects the people who work for him or her — someone who values their efforts as well as their accomplishments.

Peggy Liu

Peggy Liu is a freelance writer and content creator and editor. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in English Literature, where she was also a mental health columnist for the student newspaper. When she isn't digging her way to the bottom of a peanut butter jar or petting friendly dogs around Vancouver, she can be found sitting in cafes with a notebook and a cup of coffee.