Bill Gates Explains What Separates Successful Leaders From Everyone Else in 2 Words

Written by Marcel Schwantes, Founder and Chief Human Officer at Inc.com

Bill Gates said something years ago that should resonate deep within the collective conscience of leaders everywhere. The co-founder of Microsoft pointed out: “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”

In two words, Gates nailed a defining characteristic of true leaders: empower others.

Let’s now reframe his quote to match the surreal circumstances in which we find ourselves today. When you think of what great leaders may be doing to pivot and meet the demands of a stay-at-home economy, what comes to mind?

For starters, more of us are waking up to the stark reality that virtual collaboration is now the norm. And to Gates’ point, whatever you thought about leaders before the outbreak, one thing remains true for either office or remote settings: Great leaders set themselves apart by effectively influencing and empowering other human beings.

Empowerment in crisis.

The need to empower people doesn’t change just because circumstances do.

From what I’ve observed from great leaders recently, plus my own personal experiences adjusting to the new work climate, here are some ways to empower the people around you and take your leadership to the next level:

Put your employees first.

Every leader’s role right now involves proactively responding daily to the challenges facing their people. Whether it’s meeting to discuss steps to protect employees or the business, good leaders are being empathetic to meet people’s needs. They are being mindful of the mental health needs of their team members and their families as social isolation, potential ill health, economic hardships, and other uncertainties of life weigh on people in unique ways.

Encourage fun and flexibility.

Empowering people in virtual settings shouldn’t be limited to work hours. To develop a spirit of community within remote tribes, many leaders are using video for virtual coffee or lunch breaks together. Saar Yoskovitz, CEO of Augury, an AI-based machine health solutions company keeps his people connected by holding digital happy hours with his team. On Saint Patrick’s Day, people logged in, cameras on, of course, and had their favorite drinks together from the comfort of their own homes. “Many of our people are now working from home while taking care of their kids — so we’re making sure to give them more flexibility, understanding, and fun distractions,” he shared over email.

Invest in digital solutions.

According to research from PwC’s Digital IQ report, the top 5 percent of digital leaders invest a third more than other companies in the digital infrastructure of their business, leading to 77 percent of them seeing increased employee satisfaction. However, during times of crisis, many firms “pull back on investments and conserve cash, but really [they] should be focusing on their digital investments,” says PwC global chief experience officer David Clarke, who spoke to me about the research. Clarke continues, “Companies that weren’t working this way before are going to quickly wake up to the need to make virtual collaboration and cross-functional work the norm.”

Look to your employee for the answers.

Historically, leadership has been a practice to be performed by the few in places of higher status and positional authority. But in reality, when seeking solutions to problems, people with great ideas are everywhere. Don’t look up in the ivory tower or externally to consultants for solutions that can be found within your own tribe. You’ll be surprised to find that the best resources are likely already residing in a nearby Slack channel, or just a Zoom conference call away.

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