Everyone says they want to make a difference. How many times have you had that conversation around the water cooler or in the break room? "If I was leading (fill in the blank) I would really make a difference, things would change. Usually these sorts of conversations happen around a perceived injustice or unpopular decision when folks are riled up. But what does making a difference really mean? Everyone knows that as a leader you can't make decisions that everyone will align with every single time so it must be more than just consensus?
Making a difference is a big issue, especially if you are a leader in a company or organization. Gallup regularly releases data on workforce trends around engagement and management and aside from consistently seeing employee engagement around 33% one of the biggest trends they see are folks who leave companies because of their manager. To put it in their terms "employees leave managers they don't leave companies."
I am going to explore this over the next few days but lets start with what I think is the number one way you can make a difference as a leader. Acknowledge and treat your staff as people. Too obvious you say? It may well be too obvious but it is also one of the biggest disconnects when people talk about what makes a bad boss.
Lets do a quick test - for the people that report directly to you see if you can answer these questions; are they married or in a relationship? Do they have children? What are their children's names and their partners name? What are their passions and skills? What are their goals in life, in the company? What have you done to acknowledge those things and how are you advocating for them?
I am sure you will have noticed that very few of those things relate to the work that person is doing at the company or on the team. Yet those things matter and they will mark someone as a great leader versus someone who is not.
Let me give an example. "Ruth" struggled with her new boss. Everything was unfamiliar and she found herself wondering about expectations and worried that she would cross lines that she did not know were there. Added to this was the burden of a rocky relationship at home and a struggle with drinking. No one at work knew about these things and while typically she could put on a smiling facade the new boss made even that difficult.
The "boss" was struggling to understand where Ruth was coming from. Several efforts to give her more meaningful and important tasks which were meant to demonstrate faith in her ability were met with suspicion and resistance. What the boss did not realize is that these efforts were perceived by Ruth as setting her up for failure so the boss could replace her.
The boss was running out of options to connect with Ruth but hung in there and decided to just try and connect on a personal level. The breakthrough came when one day as they had just completed a meeting and were just "chatting." The boss shared a bit about some of the struggles she had faced recently with some of her children. To Ruth this was a revelation and an affirmation that her boss would share something like that with her. Over the course of the next few weeks she began to open up too about the struggles she was facing and amazingly they began to formulate plans for how she could deal with them. She soon realized too that her boss was actually trying to help her succeed and that those new tasks were a sincere affirmation of her skills.
Sometimes when we can't connect on the team or business level it is important to remember that we can always connect as people. Taking the time to get to know your team as people really does make a difference. Performance Leadership - Think About It!