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

Bill Gates, the co-Founder of the Microsoft company and co-Founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation GETTY IMAGES

If you call yourself a leader or aspire to be one, the Microsoft co-founder has some plain advice for you.

If you call yourself a leader or aspire to be one, 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 years in advance: 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 are waking up to the stark reality to make virtual collaboration the norm. And to Gates' point, whatever you thought about leaders before the outbreak, one thing still remains true for either office or remote settings: Great leaders set themselves apart by effectively influencing and empowering other human beings.

Empowerment in crisis

Empowerment of people doesn't change just because circumstances around you do -- especially in a time of crisis.
To demonstrate what I have been witnessing in my interviews and observations of great leaders recently, plus my own personal experiences adjusting to the new work climate, here are four ways to empower the people around you -- your employees -- and take your leadership to the next level:

1. Empower your employees by putting them first

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

2. Empower your employees through 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 over hangouts 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.

3. Empower your employees by investing 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 David Clarke, PwC global chief experience officer 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." 

4. Empower your employees by seeking answers from them

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 think you need to look up the ivory tower or externally to consultants for solutions to questions that can be answered from within your 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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