Playing Well with Others

Remember the days when we used to get report cards from our teachers? They gave us feedback not only about our class work but also about us as human beings. Perhaps you were one of the kids whose teacher praised you by saying that you “played well with others.” If so, good on you! Playing well with others is an essential life skill, no matter how old we get.

 Who Are Your Truth Tellers and Challengers?

It’s not always easy to work well with others, especially when the other person is very different from us. Often, the people we work with don’t share our opinions or our approach to problem solving. They might even challenge our thinking and insist on doing things their way—or at least insist that we compromise. This is a good thing! Why? Because we need truth tellers and challengers to help us grow and develop.

In her wonderful book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin shows how Lincoln became the greatest American president, in part by surrounding himself with those who had initially opposed him and who continued to challenge him throughout his presidency.

How Working with People Least Like Me Brought Out the Best in Me

Early in my career, I worked with a man who wasn’t like me in many ways. Where I was easygoing, he was a stickler. Where I saw the big picture, he was better at details. Where I had a live-and-let-live philosophy, he had a take-no-prisoners approach. A lot of people found it tough to be around this man, but he was brilliant and working with him led to a wonderful career for me.

I don’t regret a single day I spent working with this man. He got me excited about leadership and pushed me hard to be clear and theoretically sound in my work. I would not have become as good a teacher or presenter if not for him.

I also had a writing partner whose personality could be tough at times. He insisted on getting his way and didn’t always use tact when he communicated his opinions. Yet he had such a brilliant, creative mind that I knew I had to write a book with him. Despite the many confrontations we had, the book we worked on together never would have reached its full potential without him.

Working with these two men showed me how partnering with people who were different than I was could improve my skills and ignite my career.

The Benefits of Working with Others

I believe that playing well with others is my superpower. Over the past 53 years I’ve written more than 65 books, most of them with coauthors. Here are just a few of the upsides to working with others.

Learning. My mother used to ask me why I didn’t write my own books. “I already know what I know,” I would tell her. “When I write with somebody else, I learn a lot.” Writing with others increases my knowledge on multiple topics.

Skill Building. By working with coauthors, I sharpen my writing skills—vocabulary, grammar, organization, and structure. I also get to practice patience and listening skills.

Productivity. Without question, working with others increases my productivity. It is highly doubtful that I could have published more than 65 books on my own.

Networking. On my seventieth birthday, we threw a party and invited all my coauthors to attend. What a joy it was to be with all the wonderful writing partners I’d had over the years! There were around 30 of them at that time, and the number is even larger today. Developing a network of special friends is one of the greatest benefits of working with others.

Ability to Serve Others. I believe that the purpose of work is to make a positive contribution to humanity. Working with others allows me to expand my influence and make a bigger difference in people’s lives.

So, don’t go it alone! Learn to play well with others—especially those who might be different than you. Collaborating with others will bring out the best in you—and it will benefit your organization, as well.

Quiet Quitting and the Servant Leader

Let’s face it—over the past couple of years, life at home and at work has become more difficult for just about everyone. I’ve always been a great advocate of positive thinking, and I still am. But I know it’s not always easy to keep your head up when going through tough times.

We’ve been reading a lot about a trend called “quiet quitting.” It’s when people feel so overworked, overwhelmed, and stressed that they make a conscious decision to do the bare minimum on the job. They stop doing things like working on tasks outside of their job description or volunteering for work teams or committees. They come to work every day, do their job as assigned, and go home. They are hurting—and they hope quiet quitting is a way for them to avoid burnout and still keep their job.

As a servant leader, you are there to serve your people, develop them, and bring out the best in them. It’s important for you to say and do the right things—but if people don’t believe you truly care about them, you won’t earn their trust. When you become aware that someone is troubled, schedule a one-on-one meeting and show them you care by asking them what they need, listening to the answers, and working together on a solution. If your company has an Employee Assistance Program, have your HR department send out reminders letting people know how they can take advantage of that benefit. 

Leadership is a matter of the heart. Pay attention to your team members. If you notice anyone exhibiting uncharacteristically negative behavior or seeming unusually tired or withdrawn, let them know you have their best interests at heart by reaching out to help. As a trusted servant leader, when you establish a sincere, caring environment through your words and actions, you can be assured your people will remember the way you made them feel.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou) is Simple Truth #36 in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, my new book with Randy Conley. It’s on sale now at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Download an eBook summary for a preview here!

Leaders: Stop Treating Everybody the Same

Every great leader strives to treat their people fairly and equitably. But leaders who think that means they need to treat all their people the same are doing their people a disservice. One of the most unfair things a leader can do is give everybody the same broad-brush treatment.

If you’re thinking, “I have to use the same leadership style with everyone or it will look like I am playing favorites,” remember that each person is skilled in different areas and at different levels. Brad may be an ace at creating graphs and managing data on spreadsheets and Ginger may be highly skilled in designing online presentations. Although you would be able to delegate a spreadsheet task to Brad, Ginger would need to start with specific direction on how to create a spreadsheet. And Brad would need to begin at square one with presentation software while Ginger would be able to sail through a design project on her own.

Let’s look at this topic situationally using our SLII® leadership training model.

Every person is at a specific development level (amount of both competence and commitment) on each task or goal they are pursuing. For example, a professional editor (let’s call him JT) with 20 years of experience is what we call a self-reliant achiever—the highest development level (D4)—at editing. JT has internal clients who send him documents to edit but he needs almost no direction or support to do the job well.

Now let’s say JT decides he really wants to learn to play guitar. When he begins working toward this goal, he is initially at the lowest development level (D1—enthusiastic beginner) at playing guitar. He is excited about learning but has no idea what he is doing. He needs specific direction (S1) from his instructor on every aspect of playing, starting with how to hold the instrument and position his hands.

After a short time of learning and practicing, JT is discouraged. His fingertips are sore and he can’t get the rhythm of strumming. He thought playing guitar would be easy and fun, but it’s not. JT is now at the development stage we call disillusioned learner (D2). He needs direction as well as coaching (S2) from his instructor to help him power through this stage.

Fortunately, JT doesn’t give up. With continued instruction, he slowly gains confidence and becomes a capable, but cautious, contributor (D3). He is still learning, but he knows how to play guitar competently and enjoys practicing and challenging himself. He continues to get support (S3) and encouragement from his instructor but needs only occasional direction.

After months of continuous practice, a bit more instruction, and some performing in front of friends and family, JT has reached D4 as a guitar player. He is confident in his skill and proud of his accomplishment. He will still keep his day job as an editor, but has developed his original spark of interest into an enjoyable pastime. JT’s instructor knew how to set him up for success by using different leadership styles—specific amounts of direction and support—depending on JT’s level of expertise at the task at hand.

As you can see, even though someone is a seasoned expert (D4) at one task, they can be a beginner (D1) at another. The concepts of SLII® can be applied to relationships at work, at home, and in the community by leaders, parents, partners, teachers, coaches—anyone who wants to help others accomplish goals.

Most likely, each of your direct reports has areas where you can simply delegate to them—and they also have new tasks or goals where they need your specific direction. Let your people know you care about helping them develop their skills. Work with them to diagnose their development level on each of their tasks, and flex your leadership style to match by giving them the amount of direction and support they need to accomplish their goals. Your people, your organization, and your leadership will be all the better for it! “There’s nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals” is Simple Truth #40 in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, my new book with Randy Conley. It’s on sale now at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Download an eBook summary for a preview here!

Let People Know You Care by Asking Them to Stay

You’ve probably heard the recently coined term Great Resignation. It refers to how a record number of people around the world have voluntarily left their jobs since early 2020—the beginning of the pandemic. At last report, the movement is still going strong.

Many of these folks are looking for more than just a paycheck. They want authentic leaders who care about them—leaders who want to know what they think and what they need to do their best work. These people want to be included in decisions and to feel they are contributing to the greater good.

The Great Resignation has been a huge wake-up call for a lot of organizations with leaders who had no idea their people felt this way. Why didn’t they know? Because it never occurred to them to ask about people’s wants, needs, thoughts, or ideas until after their best people were gone. These employers are still running around trying to find the magic key that not only will stop the flow of people leaving but also attract and retain promising new hires.

Have the Conversations

If you really want to know what your people are thinking, schedule one-on-one conversations and follow this three-step process.

First step: Ask them what they think. Whether face to face or virtual, ask your team members questions such as how they feel about their job, what their thoughts are about new company initiatives or upcoming changes, or what they might need from you in terms of support to help them achieve their goals. This conversation is about what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.

These are crazy times. Your people need to know that you care about them and about what they think. When you ask them for their thoughts, they feel like their opinion matters.

Second step: Listen carefully to the answers. When you take the first step of asking people what they think, you have committed yourself to the second step: listening carefully to their answers and considering them. Don’t hesitate to ask other questions that may come to mind, including “Can you tell me more about that?” or “How would that work?” Take detailed notes—you may need them for the next step.

Remember to thank people after you hear their thoughts and ideas. The more open you are to listening to them, the more you will gain their trust and encourage them to keep sharing.

Third step: Consider what you’ve heard—and follow up.

Depending on what questions you asked and what answers you received, take action as needed. For example:

  • If the person has ideas or suggestions that are legitimate and that you believe may appeal to managers in other departments or higher level leaders, take steps in that direction. Be ready to encourage your team member and even to partner with them to help promote their suggestions.
  • If the person reveals that they are considering taking another job or even leaving the company without having a different job lined up, immediately schedule another meeting with them for a stay conversation.

Madeleine Homan Blanchard, our company’s Chief Coaching Architect, wrote about stay conversations in a recent blog post on this topic. In it, she says: “If employees don’t see and hear evidence that their boss and their company value them and want them to stay with the organization, they will assume their leaving won’t be a problem for anyone. This is just human nature: in the absence of information, people will make things up.”

The higher some leaders move in an organization, they more they think all the brains are in their office. You already know that’s not true. If your people believe you have their best interests in mind, they have every reason to give you their trust, loyalty, and best efforts. You may never know how many people you may influence to stay with your organization. And you may never know what future initiatives may begin with these four little words: “What do you think?”

“People Don’t Care How Much You Know Until They Know How Much You Care” is Simple Truth #35 in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, my new book with Randy Conley. It’s on sale now at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Download an eBook summary for a preview here!

Managers: How Can You Trust People to Work When You’re Not There?

Back when most people were working face to face, it wasn’t difficult for a manager to keep up with what their team members were doing. Their behavior was observable because everyone was generally together in one place almost every hour of the workweek.

Today is different. Lots of folks work from home regularly. Team meetings happen on computer screens, not in conference rooms. In some organizations, nearly everyone fits the category of “works without supervision” at least a few days a week. Managers have had to get used to delegating to their people regardless of whether they are comfortable doing it.

High control managers aren’t happy about this turn of events. They believe when people work remotely without a supervisor, they are likely to goof off, procrastinate, and generally take their work less seriously. Their productivity will suffer—and it will reflect badly on the leader.

But servant leaders and their organizations have had a distinct advantage since people began working remotely. Why? Because their people were already empowered to make decisions and perform just as well on their own as they did when their leader was present.

The real proof that you are a trusted servant leader is how your people perform when you are not around. They know you trust them and they want to live up to the standards you have demonstrated. It’s plain to see that in this environment, trust goes both ways.

Here are a few simple steps to helping your people feel more empowered, trusted, and confident in their work:

  • Work side by side with each person on your team to set specific, measurable, achievable goals.
  • Provide team members with the direction and support they need to accomplish their goals.
  • Communicate often so they know you care and that you are there if they need you.
  • Catch them doing things right, praise progress, and redirect them if they get off track.
  • Now step aside and watch them shine!

Trusting people to work on their own is easy when you empower them by setting goals together, praising or redirecting as needed, and keeping the lines of communication open. “The Most Important Part of Leadership Is What Happens When You’re Not There” is Simple Truth #44 in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, my new book with Randy Conley. It’s on sale now at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Download an eBook summary for a preview here!