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book excerpt

Dare: Straight Talk on Confidence, Courage, and Career for Women in Charge by Becky Blalock.

Excerpted from Dare: Straight Talk on Confidence, Courage, and Career for Women in Charge by Becky Blalock. Reprinted with permission from Wiley. Copyright 2013.

As the leader of any team, you have the ability to lift and inspire or to totally demoralize the group. In fact, the number one reason why employees leave their job is the relationship with their immediate supervisor.

As a boss, much of your focus is devoted to observing and improving your employees' performance: Are they doing what they're supposed to do, when they're supposed to and with excellence? When it comes to evaluating your own performance, your vision may be a bit more fuzzy. I've found that the following exercise creates an immediate and dramatic perspective shift, revealing exactly where your leadership is falling short and how to remedy that.

1. Write a description of what your perfect boss would be like–how would he or she greet you in the morning, make requests, handle mistakes, reward you, and so on? Let this list be long.

2. Look over your list with this question in mind: How many of these things are you doing for your employees? If you are like me, you will find this step to be a wake-up call to do more for your team members.

3. For items on which you know you're remiss, brainstorm ways to build those qualities or actions into your leadership style. Put the ideas in writing, and keep them handy on your computer desktop or on a sticky note for a few weeks until you develop new habits.

Develop a habit of communicating at a level that is intimate as well as inspiring and uplifting. This is not as difficult as it sounds. Uplift and inspire those around you by communicating to them your certainty of their importance to you and to the enterprise. You don't need to make flowery speeches, and you certainly don't need to counterfeit gratitude. There is no reason to. The truth is that your peers and your reports really are crucially important to you and the enterprise. Communicate this fact enthusiastically and frequently – you really can't do it too much.

You will be amazed by the positive impact that you as a leader can have on other people, and by the transformational impact they, in turn, will have on you and your endeavors. Happy people who feel their efforts are recognized are more productive.

It's much easier to expect things of others than to actually do them ourselves. The fact that your employees look up to you and respect you as an authority figure means that everything you say, both your accolades and your critiques, is amplified. That's a big responsibility –and also an opportunity. Make the most of it.

Becky Blalock is the former senior vice-president and chief information officer of Southern Co., an Atlanta-based electric utility holding company, where she worked for 33 years before retiring. Today, Ms. Blalock is a partner with Advisory Capital and sits on numerous boards including the business school of Mercer University.