Leaders and their relationships with employees

The last couple of posts covered Superficial Leadership and The True Purpose of a Leader. Today we tackle the Leader’s relationship with his or her team. As a leader, do you spend as much time with your employees as you do with your business’ numbers? Is it quality time that shows sincere interest in them as human beings? And would they agree?

Or do you subconsciously believe that having an ongoing personal connection with employees is a waste of time? Maybe you rationalize your detachment by saying it’s your personal style to assign goals, provide resources, and let people loose.

An Atmosphere for Success

When I ask these simple questions of executives who want to build their organizational capability, they often become pensive. They begin to ponder what everyone knows — that most professionals want to do the best job they can, but a leader who creates the right ambiance and kindles the fire in people gets that extra something that drives organizations to new heights.

It’s a matter of attitudes, feelings and emotions that makes work enjoyable and ignites people’s energy to do more than they thought they could. Great leaders understand the numbers, but they also touch people’s hearts.

To get people fully engaged, you have to pay attention to them and make a personal connection with them. There are lots of different approaches to doing so, but here are some specific ways to improve how you lead people:

1. Spend time and listen.

There’s no substitute for personal interaction. Even the most competent, motivated professionals can lose focus, energy, and commitment when their interaction with the boss dwindles. Some people will assume others have your ear and feel less important. Others will simply feel overlooked and underappreciated.

You have to make the time to converse with people in person, by phone, through email, at lunch, or through periodic sit-downs one on one. Asking how a person’s current challenge is going and whether there’s anything you can do to help shows you care about his success.

An email following up on a formal or informal discussion reminds the person that she’s on your radar screen. Even a quick exchange in the hallway or elevator is a chance to show interest.

Listening is more important than talking. That’s how you find out what the organization is really wrestling with and therefore how execution is going. You’ll also learn how people tackle problems, and therefore how their minds work and what their talents are — all important in building a first-class organization.

But listening goes deeper. People feel different when they know they’ve been heard and that their input is making a difference. Access to you and your sincere interest are pivotal to their emotional connection with their work.

2. Help people see why their work is important.

It’s hard to feel engaged when you’re working in a vacuum. You can help people see their individual contribution as part of a bigger picture.

For example, a middle manager charged with designing an efficient flow of goods from China to a location in the middle of Texas can get totally immersed in the complexities of balancing cost, time, speed, and insurance risks.

As her boss, you can provide the broader context that shows how critical that work is to the company’s overall picture of streamlining the supply chain and conserving cash to make the company more competitive. When people see how their project, their job, and their goals fit into a higher purpose, they know their contribution matters.

3. Give people honest feedback.

It’s a human phenomenon: When someone is doing really well and you reinforce it with positive feedback, good performance becomes even better. People need to be seen and recognized — and not just once a year in a typically brief performance review. They need to hear what you think of their work often, with candor.

Maybe you think the high performers know they’re doing well, or should know because you pay them well. Don’t count on it.

When people aren’t meeting expectations, let them know that, too, so that they have a chance to improve. Don’t let your disappointments build and fester. If you talk to people regularly there’ll be no surprises.

4. Take an interest in people’s careers.

People will be all the more committed to their work when they know you’re the kind of leader who is truly interested in their success. Look for what people are naturally good at and work with them to find ways that they can leverage their talents. This applies to your underperformers as well as your superstars.

Talk about what they want to do, and what you can imagine them doing. Brainstorm possibilities, even if those possibilities are outside your span of control. And let your best people go to other jobs, other departments, even other organizations if that’s where the opportunity lies.

I’ve known many a retired leader who beams with pride at the success of leaders he helped nurture. And even decades later, those other leaders are deeply grateful to the person who helped them grow. Such emotional connections make life more meaningful.

5. Take an interest in the person beyond the job.

Not every conversation should be about work. People have lives outside of work; indeed, some people are very different outside of their jobs. People will know you care about them if you take time to learn what’s important in their lives.

The Full Measure of Leadership

Sure, you can hire a motivational speaker to fire up the troops. But the effect will last 15 minutes. If you really want to get your employees fully engaged in their work, you must be fully engaged with them. It’s you who makes the difference. It’s in your daily behavior, and it’s your energy that creates energy in others. It’s that simple.

Caring about people and wanting to draw the best out of them is something you can’t fake. If you’re self-centered and disinterested in others, leadership is not your calling. People know the difference. They’ll gravitate toward leaders whose concern is sincere.

Put your beliefs into action. Treat people like human beings with full lives, personal ambitions, and both the desire and the right to be valued and heard. Is it different from what you see around you? Maybe so, but that’s what leadership is all about.

 Disclaimer: author and source unknown.

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