Investing in Your People Is Never Risky

People sometimes wonder why Spencer Johnson and I titled our book The One Minute Manager. They can’t imagine how someone can manage in a minute. The reality is that many managers don’t take the time—even a minute—to follow the three secrets from the book: set goals with your people, catch them doing things right and praise their progress, and redirect them when they get off track.

I’ve often said “The best minute of the day is the one you invest in your people.” Why do I believe that? Because leaders who invest time in their people are building important, meaningful connections. Those connections create inspired people and inspired leaders who work together to achieve great results and who benefit from great relationships. It’s an investment that’s no risk, all reward!

Part of The One Minute Manager’s significance is how the book helps leaders understand that the best ways to serve your people don’t have to involve rehearsed conversations, lengthy meetings, or stressful performance reviews. Sometimes an act as simple as listening to a person’s idea, talking about their weekend, or sharing a laugh with them can be the most memorable moment of their day.

Investing in your people is about time spent focusing on them, not on yourself. Leadership is not about you; it’s about the people you are trying to influence. The more you know about each of your direct reports, the better you’ll be able to help them achieve their goals. For example, taking time to work side by side with a direct report to determine their development level on a task lets them know you are interested in meeting them where they are. And it allows you to use the right leadership style, with the right amount of direction and support, to help that person get to the next level.

Here’s another way you can spend a minimum amount of time and build a major connection: schedule one-on-one meetings with each of your people where they set the agenda. These meetings don’t use up a lot of work time—just 20 to 30 minutes every other week. There’s no better way to show someone you care about them as a person than to set aside time to chat about anything they wish. It’s a great opportunity for both of you to speak openly without interference or judgment. These short meetings lead to trusting relationships with feelings of respect, loyalty, and accountability on both sides.

Also, don’t forget to take time to celebrate people’s talents, skills, and successes. Celebrating doesn’t require a big, expensive party. It can be as simple as taking a person aside (or sending them a private chat message) to praise them for their input at a meeting. It can be as quiet as sending someone a gift card to acknowledge their going above and beyond on a project. Or it can be as grand as announcing to everyone they can stop working two hours early on a Friday afternoon. Celebration in any form lets people know they are doing things right, which builds morale and camaraderie. And it’s fun!

Making your team members feel special doesn’t need to be time consuming. Invest a few moments now and then to let people know you’re glad they’re on your team, you appreciate their contributions, and you enjoy helping them win. Take time to build those meaningful connections. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.  

This blog was based on Simple Truth #8 in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, available now at your favorite bookstore. To download an eBook summary of the book, please go here.

Autonomy Through Boundaries

When I talk to leaders about helping their people become autonomous, a lot of them think I mean they should give people the freedom to do anything they want. That is not the case. To inspire an empowered, autonomous workforce, leaders must create boundaries.

Boundaries have the capacity to channel energy in a specific direction. Just as the banks of a river channel the power and energy of water, so do effective boundaries channel the power and energy of people.

One of my favorite sayings is “A river without banks is a very large puddle,” taken from my book with John Carlos and Alan Randolph, Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute. Without boundaries, the work people do has no momentum and direction.

            Establishing boundaries sets people up to win. Imagine playing tennis with just a net and no markings for boundary lines. You wouldn’t know how to keep score, evaluate your performance, or improve your game.

            Here are the steps to take to create empowering boundaries:

  1. Establish clear goals, expectations, and standards of performance.

Goals ensure people know the areas in which you expect them to be autonomous and responsible. The worst thing a manager can do is to send people off on their own with no clear goals and then punish them when they don’t meet unspoken expectations. Don’t be one of those managers. Communicate in plain language what people need to accomplish.

  • Ensure people are aware of all procedures, rules, and laws.

Policies and procedures are important to guide day-to-day operations and decision making. Just be sure to review the rules periodically to make sure they are still relevant. If your people alert you to a procedure that no longer makes sense, listen to them. They’re often closer to the action than you are and better able to see when it’s time to rethink outdated procedures.

  • Confirm everyone knows your organization’s compelling vision:
    • Your purpose (what business you are in)
    • Your picture of the future (where you are going)
    • Your values (what will guide your journey)

By communicating your organization’s vision, you help people understand how their work fits into the big picture. Seeing their contribution to the mission and vision of the organization can motivate people to high performance.

            While it may sound counter-intuitive, boundaries and the fastest way to empower people to become autonomous. Clear boundaries allow people to make decisions, take initiative, act like owners, and stay on track to reach both personal and organizational goals.

This blog was based on Simple Truth #12 in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, available now at your favorite bookstore. To download an eBook summary of the book, please go here.

An Empowered Workforce Focuses on the Greater Good

In an earlier blog post on the topic of quiet quitting, I made a case for servant leadership—leaders who serve their people by helping them realize that quiet quitting (disengagement at work) is not the answer. Servant leaders establish a safe, caring environment, let people know how valuable they are as individuals, ask them what they need, listen to their answers, and work side by side with them on a solution.

I want to go one step further today with another goal for organizations run by servant leaders: creating a culture of empowerment.

Empowerment is an organizational climate that unleashes the knowledge, experience, and motivation that reside in people. Creating a culture of empowerment doesn’t happen overnight—but leaders of the best run companies know that empowerment creates satisfied people, positive relationships, and never before seen results. People are excited about the organizational vision, motivated to serve customers at a higher level, and focused on working toward the greater good.

It’s true—empowered employees have more expected of them. But along with those high expectations comes growth, career development, the satisfaction of belonging to a self-directed team and being involved in decisions, and a sense of ownership.

In Empowerment Takes More than a Minute, the book I coauthored with John Carlos and Alan Randolph, we offer three keys leaders must use to guide the transition to a culture of empowerment.

The First Key: Share Information with Everyone

Team members who get the information they need from their leader can make good business decisions. But when leaders keep important information to themselves, people often come up with their own version of the truth—which may be worse than reality. And when people don’t have accurate information, they can’t act responsibly.

Servant leaders trust their people and realize that openly sharing information about themselves and the organization—good or bad—is the right thing to do. It builds trust between managers and their people. And when people have accurate information, they can make decisions that are in the best interests of the organization.

The Second Key: Create Autonomy through Boundaries

Counter to what some people believe, there is structure in an empowered organization. It is there to inform team members of the boundaries that exist within their autonomy. These boundaries take the form of vision statements, goals, decision-making rules, performance management partnerships, etc. Within those ranges, team members can determine what to do and how to do it. As the empowered person grows, the range of structures also grows to allow them a greater degree of control and responsibility.

The Third Key: Replace the Hierarchy with Self-Directed Individuals and Teams

Empowered, self-directed individuals and teams—highly skilled, interactive groups with strong self-managing skills—are more effective in complex situations. They don’t just recommend ideas—they make and implement decisions and are held accountable for results. Today, success depends on empowered, self-directed individuals and teams.

Empowerment means that people have the freedom to act. It also means that they are accountable for results. The journey to empowerment requires everyone to challenge their most basic assumptions about how business should operate. People at all levels of the organization must master new skills and learn to trust self-directed individuals and teams as decision-making entities. An empowered culture is not easily built—but the rewards for the organization, its leaders, and its workers are enduring and plentiful.

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!