Part 2...show them you care
A wise man once told me that a great leader doesn’t need to know everything, but has people working for them who do. If this is true then it flies in the face of one of the biggest mistakes managers and leaders make, which is to believe they have to know everything about what goes on in their teams, right down to each person’s individual tasks in their role. Apart from putting themselves under enormous pressure, this is a totally unrealistic and time-consuming exercise that reaps little rewards, and drags them straight backdown into the weeds, rather than remaining focussed on the bigger picture and their strategic objectives.
It also means that spending time with each employee will be more transactional, with a focus on what they’re working on, their challenges, and helping them problem-solve obstacles. They should of course include these in their discussions, but while it may feel as if it’s helping the employee, excluding more relationship-based topics sends a message that what the leader really cares about is getting the job done, rather than the employee. It also means the leader’s focus is still on their own input (see my first blog “It’s not about you”), and although it may feel good and productive at the time, it’s to the detriment of building deeper and more trusting relationships, and detracts from focussing on empowering the employee to work autonomously, and finding their own ways of dealing with challenging situations.
Our brains play a big part in this because the areas of the brain that allow us to be strategic cannot work in tandem with the areas that govern more detail-orientated activities. And the more we stay “in the weeds”, the stronger that way of working becomes, rather like how we become left- or right-handed. It also explains why, when we try to be strategic our brain feels as if it’s stuck, and it feels like such a huge effort that we often give up, believing we’re no good at it, or that it’s not a worthwhile endeavour. In a way though our brain is stuck, (think about writing with your other hand), so we need to find a way to overcome this to avoid being dragged back into those weeds.
Taking a short break to go for a walk or run in greenery normally helps “reset” our brains, and as long as we avoid diving straight back into familiar tactical territory afterwards, strategic thinking will be much easier, and allow leaders to start asking themselves questions, such as “Do I have the right people in my team with the right skills?”, “What challenges do they face, and how can I help them to overcome them?”, “What are their strengths, and how can I make the most of them?”, and “What are their career aspirations, and what development opportunities can I provide?”
Once the answers to these and other important questions are considered, it’s only then can a leader truly shift their focus away from themselves, and have more meaningful one-to-one discussions with their employees. Finding out what’s really going on for them, coaching them to help them identify their own ways of dealing with problems, and discussing current and future career aspirations will all demonstrate how much they care about them as individuals.
Ultimately, feeling cared-for and valued leads employees to challenge themselves more, it creates a more psychologically safe environment where they can be more of themselves, and it increases discretionary effort. Over the longer-term it improves employee engagement, reflecting much more favourably on the leader.