Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Leadership… It’s the little things

I was just reading an article on data gathering in heavy industry, and it stated that it’s often the small incremental gains (or savings) that, over time, make the biggest impact, and it really struck a cord.

We often look for that one big thing that is going to change everything… make us rich, make us happy, make our work more satisfying or rewarding, become our passion…  only those things almost never happen.

Almost every “overnight success” story can actually be traced back to years of hard work.  

Putting more effort and care into our work, and becoming really good at what we do (over time) is what actually leads to being passionate about our work.  That, in turn, is what makes something (anything) satisfying and rewarding.

So why am I writing about this?  What does it have to do with Leadership or hiring the best people?

In my experience Leadership… developing the ability to influence others, is built on the small things that are done repeatedly and consistently over time.  It is rare that someone can influence others without a commitment to the small efforts and actions that define Leadership.  The people who work for you determine whether or not you achieve your (shared) goals… wouldn’t it be great if they worked at achieving those goals because it was important to them?  

So… what actions can we take in order to positively influence the people who work for us?

In order to influence others we must develop relationships with them.  To do that…

We must extend trust.
In real terms this means loosening up on the reigns and not micro managing.  If your boss tells you the expected outcome, proceeds to tell you how you need to achieve that outcome, and then constantly checks up on you, you cannot feel that your boss trusts you.  No one wants to be used as a puppet…

We have to allow our team members to make some decisions around how their work is accomplished.  This will be more, or less difficult, depending on the nature of the work you and your team are doing, and there is always some way of showing that you trust your team members.  

If this is difficult for you, perhaps you can start by allowing your team members to determine things like the order in which things are done; the timing of different tasks?  Even simply having a conversation with a team member about what needs to happen, why it needs to happen, and how that might be accomplished is a good start.  Asking someone ‘what they would change if they were in charge?’ will often yield good results.  However if you have not taken any steps to develop a relationship with them yet, understand they may not trust you enough to tell you what they really think or feel.  You have to be OK with that… It takes consistent openness, sincerity and honesty over time in order for people to trust you.

Allowing people to change how things are done will mean that mistakes will be made.  We could talk about dealing with this for hours (and perhaps we will…), and just keep in mind that in order for things to improve some changes have to be made.  That always means some mistakes and experimentation, and that’s OK as long as those changes are made consciously, purposefully and with everyone involved on the same page.

Following up from that;

Your team members need to know that their jobs will not be threatened when they make mistakes.
In real terms that means regular conversations about changes being made; expectations; acceptable and unacceptable outcomes, and stating OUT LOUD that you trust them.  Let’s try it… “Thank you for being so open to discussing this with me… I trust you with this.”  You both go in with your eyes open, and you both agree on the outcomes that are not negotiable, deadlines that need to be met, and any other critical issues.

Then when those inevitable mistakes are made you can simply have follow up conversations about what went wrong, and what the next steps are.  Do we try that again with changes based on what we’ve learned?  What we do not do is take mistakes or failures as a reason to take back control.  ‘See… I gave you this chance and you blew it, so now you will do things the way we always have/the way I say’ is not Leadership, and will not develop influence, nor will it allow you to move from average or mediocre towards great.

Some things to remember: you don’t have to hand over the reigns on things  that are critical to your business.  In fact you should never blindly hand over responsibility… trust and follow up.  These conversations about what and how things are done have to become normal, regular parts of our jobs… It’s what Leaders do.

We must make sure our team members feel valued.
In real terms this means making sure the people who work for us know… really feel that we are happy to have them on the team, and that their efforts are important to our overall success.  After all, are you paying anyone to do work that is not critical to your overall goals?  You would not be paying someone to do a job that did not need to be done, right?  So… we can work towards helping people feel valued by saying these words OUT LOUD to each and every person who works for you:  say it with me… “I don’t know if I’ve actually said this out loud to you before, and you are an important part of the team, and I’m happy to have you here!”  Just imagine if your boss said those words to you, with every bit of sincerity he or she could muster….  How good would that make you feel?  Do that for your team members.  Give them that gift of feeling valued.

Take the time, daily, or at least on a regular basis, to thank your team members for the work that they do.  This goes a very long way…

We need to make sure our team members feel heard.
In real terms this means more than just allowing people to talk to you.  We cannot really feel valued without feeling heard.  Most people can tell right away when we are minimizing their thoughts or feelings, and when we are not really listening but simply waiting for our turn to talk.  Most of us don’t always need to have someone agree with us, or need to have everything go our way in order to feel heard.  And as Leaders, if we want our team members to feel heard, we need to consciously listen to understand, and respond in a way that appropriately conveys that understanding.  

Sometimes, especially if we haven’t been great about this in the past, we have to take a couple of extra steps in order to accomplish this.  First, we might have to admit OUT LOUD that we are trying to be better at this; say it with me… “I know I haven’t been very good at this in the past, and moving forward I am making a real effort to listen to understand”.   Wouldn’t you appreciate it if your boss admitted this OUT LOUD to you, and then actually did it?

Second, we might have to repeat back what we heard that person say, so… “I understand that you feel you are being asked to do more than ever, in less time than ever, and with less help than ever… those things are all true.  And this is simply the reality of the world today.  It is the way things are pretty much everywhere.  This is what our jobs are now, and we can either make the best of it together, or we can find another job… however complaining about it to your coworkers is hurting the morale of the team, and cannot continue”.  We said what needed to be said while acknowledging our team member’s concerns by repeating it back to them in a respectful way.

In order to feel comfortable doing any of the things we’ve talked about so far, you will have to get to know the people who work for you.  No really…  you will have to actually care about each and every person on your team.  When we care about someone we want to know more about them; we care about the things that are important to them; we take an interest in their interests; and we want to help them achieve their goals.  If you want to influence the people who work for you, you must develop a relationship with them, and that is impossible without getting to know at least a little bit about them, and showing them that you care about them.  In reality this will look a little different from workplace to workplace, and is dependent on the size of your team.

“ No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care” stated John Maxwell, and I have found this to be true.

It is not easy to make the time for all of this… it takes a commitment, as well as a lot of physical and mental energy.  None of these things is ‘once and done’.  We need to work on relationship building consistently in order for the results to build exponentially.   All of these little actions will help you develop that high functioning team you always wanted.

Oh yeah… and as Leaders, we do these things even though we might not get them from our boss!  The positive changes over time will be noticed, and it is possible to ‘influence up’.

“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

J.R.R. Tolkien