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!

Listening Is the Key to Effective Communication

When people are asked to describe the key characteristics of a great leader, “being a good listener” is always one of the first mentioned. Why? Because people want to know their manager cares about what they think—and they want to feel heard. Excellent communication skills are essential for every manager.  

Management takes place mostly through conversations. The challenge for many managers is that they don’t understand the importance of listening. Instead of focusing on what someone else has to say, they are waiting to talk. They feel they have to prove themselves and have all the answers.

What’s the difference between a good listener and a poor one? Good listeners sort by others—they focus on the other person and what that person is saying. If you say “It’s a beautiful day!” the response from a good listener is apt to be “How does that make you feel?” On the other hand, bad listeners sort by self—they focus on themselves and what they are going to say next. Their response to your comment about it being a beautiful day will take the discussion in a self-oriented direction, such as: “You call this beautiful? You should’ve seen where I was last week!”

Good listeners make you feel good because they are interested in you and what you are thinking and feeling. If your team members believe you are a great listener who is interested in their ideas, will they share their best thinking with you? You’d better believe it!

To improve your listening skills during one-on-one conversations, try these tips:

  • Remember this phrase: Listen with the intent of understanding and being influenced by the other person.
  • Do your best to eliminate distractions. Close your office door and put away your phone.
  • Ask open-ended questions to get the other person talking and to gain clarity.
  • Resist the temptation to jump in during silent moments—especially if you are an extrovert. Sometimes people need time to formulate their thoughts.
  • Acknowledge any emotions the other person is expressing and reflect their feelings back to them to demonstrate you understand and empathize.
  • My son, Scott, says “Listen more than you talk. Listen more than is comfortable. Listen more than you already do.”

Trusting relationships with team members are essential for effective leadership. And good communication skills are necessary to build, sustain, and retain those relationships. Leaders who talk more than they listen may soon have no one left to talk to.

“Since We Were Given Two Ears and One Mouth, We Should Listen More than We Speak” is Simple Truth #43 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. Go here to download an eBook summary for a preview!

5 Tough Challenges for Managers and How to Tackle Them

No matter what industry they are in, every manager experiences key pain points—those perennial challenges that get in the way of accomplishing organizational objectives and achieving productivity goals. When objectives and goals aren’t met, it’s usually the manager who is held responsible.

Let’s take a look at five of the toughest challenges for managers and how to tackle them.

Challenge #1: Conflicting or unclear priorities

Are your people caught in an activity trap, where they are busy doing tasks, but not the right tasks? If your answer was yes, then it’s time to clarify goals with them. Although most managers agree with the importance of setting goals, most do not take the time to clearly develop goals with their team members and write them down.

Solution: Set clear goals. Effective performance management always begins with clear, observable, measurable goals. Meet with each direct report and establish observable and measurable goals around each of their key areas of responsibility. Then you and they will have clear performance indicators to help determine whether they are making progress or need coaching to improve.

Challenge #2: Disengaged employees

Have you noticed declining engagement in any of your people? Often managers avoid dealing with disengaged employees because they don’t know how. Sometimes when they talk to their people, they make matters worse by criticizing what they perceive as a lack of commitment. Unfortunately, this often turns the not engaged into the actively disengaged!

Solution: Provide support.

While it may seem counterintuitive to impatient managers, providing a supportive leadership style is the best way to remotivate someone who is disengaged. Talk to the person and find out what’s getting in the way of their engagement. Ask them how you can help remove any obstacles. Are performance expectations clear? Do they need a different leadership style from you? Do they need more feedback? Finally, remember to catch people doing things right, even if they’re doing things only approximately right. Cheering people on with specific, meaningful praise boosts morale and reinforces behavior that moves them closer to their goals. When you praise progress, you strengthen your relationships and improve results.

Challenge #3: Poor performance

Just as managers often avoid dealing with disengaged employees, they often avoid dealing with poor performance. By not saying anything, managers are essentially rewarding poor performance.

When Spencer Johnson and I published The One Minute Manager in 1982, we recommended that managers give a quick “reprimand” of the unsatisfactory behavior—not the individual—to help them get back on track. Today, side-by-side leadership is proving far more effective. Because technology and other changes are happening so fast, people are almost always in a learning mode. Punishing a learner is never appropriate, so in The New One Minute Manager, Spencer and I changed the Third Secret to “One Minute Re-Directs.” When people are clear on the goal and still learning but their performance isn’t up to standard, redirection is far more effective than a reprimand.

Solution: Redirect mistakes.

To give a One Minute Re-Direct, take the following steps:

  1. Redirect the person as soon as possible.
  2. As the leader, be sure you have made the goal clear. If not, clarify the goal.
  3. Confirm the facts first and review the error together. Be specific about what went wrong.
  4. Let the person know how you feel about the error and its impact on results.
  5. Pause for a moment to allow them time to feel the effect of the error.
  6. Tell them they are better than their mistake and you think well of them.
  7. Remind them that you have trust in them and support their success.

The aim of redirection is to build people up so they will continue to move toward good performance.

Challenge #4: Communication breakdowns

In too many organizations big communication gaps exist between managers and employees. Often, managers are using top-down communication only. They assume that things are working smoothly, when in fact employees feel unheard and dissatisfied. Because of these communication gaps, both relationships and results suffer.

Solution: Have regular one-on-one meetings.

To get information flowing with your people, encourage your direct reports to schedule regular 15- to 30-minute meetings with you at least once every month. During these meetings, people can talk to you about anything on their hearts and minds—it’s their meeting. These meetings have multiple benefits: they inform both the manager and the direct report, foster problem-solving, deepen relationships, and increase job satisfaction. Remember that as a manager, the best moment you spend is the one you invest in your people.

Challenge #5: Too much to do, not enough time

Many if not most managers complain that they have too few hours in the day to accomplish all that needs to be done. In actuality, no one has more time than anyone else; we all have the same 24-hour day. The problem is that many managers take on issues that their people should be solving.

Solution: Help your people become self-reliant achievers.

When you stop doing your people’s work and hand back responsibility to them, you not only free up more time, but you also empower your people. Use SLII® skills to provide your direct reports with the support they need to become self-reliant achievers. This will free them to bring their brains to work and use their innate knowledge, experience, and motivation to accomplish goals.

Put these techniques into practice on an ongoing basis. Remember, good management is a lifestyle, not a fad diet! For more time-tested techniques, pick up a copy of my new book with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. Go here to download an eBook summary for a preview.

It’s Okay to Toot Your Own Horn

Some managers are hard on their people because they’re also hard on themselves. They’re always thinking, “I should’ve done that better” or “What a dummy I am, forgetting that detail.” Unfortunately, poor self-expectations sometimes can influence others’ perceptions. It’s not easy to be around people who are constantly putting themselves down or second-guessing themselves. It would be better if they occasionally caught themselves doing something right.

When you catch yourself doing things right, everything in your life will improve—especially your relationships. Why? Because it’s fun to be around people who like themselves. After all, if you’re not your own best friend, who will be? And as my dad used to say, “If you don’t toot your own horn, others might use it as a spittoon!”

Here’s how to make this commonsense truth common practice:

When someone says something nice to you or does something nice for you, accept it graciously. Allowing people to catch you doing something right makes both you and the other person feel good.

  • If someone praises your work, don’t say “Yes, but . . .” Instead, tell them you appreciate their noticing.
  • Along the same lines, when someone pays you a compliment, simply smile and say “Thank you.” Don’t downplay the compliment or disagree with them—that’s like telling the person they don’t have good judgment or aren’t very smart.

If you find yourself always giving credit to others for their good efforts—although there’s nothing wrong with that—remember that a little self-praise doesn’t hurt. So go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back once in a while! “It’s Okay to Toot Your Own Horn” is Simple Truth #17 in the new book I’ve coauthored with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. It’s on sale now at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Go here to download an eBook summary for a preview!