You’d Better Do More Than Say You’re Listening

4.3 million people quit their jobs in September as the “Great Resignation” continues to pick up steam. This as thousands of companies continue to pretend that this won’t have any impact on them. 

In a recent survey of people who quit their jobs within the last 12 months a full 79% reported a major reason for leaving was the feeling that their efforts were not appreciated by their organizations. 

But the question is, where did that “feeling” of no appreciation come from?

In many cases it came directly from “management” not listening to their employees. I’d hazard a guess that many of the companies that lost employees told their people that “we are listening” to you. Some likely made a big deal out of their desire to listen to their employees.  They encouraged their people to “speak up.” 

Maybe those companies actually listened and maybe they didn’t. And therein lies the problem. The employees have no idea if they are being listened to because they receive no feedback on their suggestions, questions, or complaints. They don’t see any changes come about because of their efforts to communicate. 

The lack of change or feedback leads people to believe that management doesn’t value their input, experience, or knowledge. Looking at it objectively I’d have to say the people are almost certainly right. 

It’s always been that way to some extent. Today, for a variety of reasons, people are more likely to leave the company than put up with it. 

To be clear people are quitting their jobs for a wide variety of reasons but if you don’t solicit input from your people they are likely to leave faster. If you do solicit input and then appear to do nothing with it they leave even faster. 

If you are a leader in your organization you must make certain that EVERY suggestion, question, or complaint is responded to. You must make every effort to receive those suggestions, questions, or complaints with an open mind. You must be willing to guarantee that no matter the feedback from employees there will no retaliation of any kind. 

Most of all you must be willing to change what makes sense to change. You should also be prepared to explain, with some detail, why something cannot change. 

Explaining a policy or why things are done a certain way does not make you a weak leader. Someone asking why something is done a particular way is not challenging your leadership. In most cases they are trying to help. They are trying to make a difference. 

Communicating with the people you lead makes them feel valued. Feeling valued is more important than money and benefits. It’s so important that people would rather quit their jobs than sell their souls for a paycheck. If you’re running a business and you haven’t figured that out yet then you best be buying a whole bunch more “help wanted” signs cause you need a lotta help.

Some organizations will indeed be impacted less by the Great Resignation. That’s because they do more than merely listen to their people, they do something with what they have learned by listening. 

Questions of Leadership

People in leadership positions tell others what to do. Authentic Leaders ask others how they can help them do it. 

When I’m trying to determine someone’s leadership ability that’s one of the first things I watch for. Are they telling or are they asking. Authentic Leaders seldom wonder what’s going on in the lives of the people they lead. They seldom guess about why their people make the decisions they make. They don’t assume they know what motivates their people. They don’t need to assume because they have asked.

If you’re in a leadership position when was the last time you asked each of the people you lead how you can help them remain consistently motivated? When was the last time you asked them how their job or position was treating them. When was the last time you asked them about their goals or objectives…and not only professional goals but personal goals as well? When was the last time you asked them what you or the company could do to ensure they never feel the need to look elsewhere for employment? 

When was the last time you asked them specifically if they were certain that they were having an impact on the organization? When was the last time you asked them how you could help them be more effective? When was the last time you asked them how you could honor them? When was the last time you asked them anything at all? 

Here’s a question that many people in leadership positions would never think of asking. It’s also a question that Authentic Leaders ask fairly often. “How am I doing as a leader?” 

I’ll never ask someone in a leadership position how they are doing as a leader. It’s hard for any of us to see ourselves in the same way as others see us. So when I want to know how about the effectiveness of a particular leader I ask the people they lead. 

If you’ve established trust with the people you lead they will provide you with an honest answer. If you haven’t established trust with them then you’re not an effective leader. Sorry to be so direct and unequivocal with that but it’s a fact. You cannot lead people who do not trust you. 

I often hear from people in leadership positions that they don’t have time to ask these kinds of questions. Funny thing is I never hear that from Authentic Leaders. It’s not that Authentic Leaders have more time, it’s that they have their priorities in the proper order. They know that their own success is dependent upon the people they lead succeeding. 

They also know it is far easier to help them succeed if they invest the time to really know them. So they ask more and tell less. 

Do You Know the People You Lead?

I suppose the title of this post is silly because of course you know the people you lead. You know their name. You know their job description and you know…?

What more do you know? You make decisions regarding the people you lead on a daily basis and it’s very possible that when you really stop to think about it you don’t actually know that much about them. 

When was the last time you straight up asked the people you lead what they are passionate about? Have you ever asked them what work they would do for free if they could afford it? Have you ever, even once, asked them how you could honor them or recognize them. When was the last time you asked about their family? What about their hobbies and interests outside of work, when was the last time you asked about that?

Most people in leadership positions say they don’t have time to get to know their people at that level. What they actually mean is that it’s not a priority for them. Authentic Leaders make knowing their people, really knowing them, a top priority. 

They invest time each day, each and every day, to conduct an “innerview” with one or more of the people they lead. It might only be 5 or 10 minutes but they would tell you it’s the most important 5 or 10 minutes of their day. 

It is not an “interview,” that’s what you do when you’re hiring someone. An “innerview” is what you do when you want to know your people on a level that truly allows you to lead them. To know what motivates them. To understand their goals in life. To understand their thinking and their actions. 

Most people would say that their people are their organization’s greatest asset. Then they tell you they can’t spare 5 minutes to invest in that asset. Instead they spend their time on something they said was less important…that is not a recipe for successful leadership.

If knowing your people is not a priority then you may be a boss, you may be a manager, but I’m sorry to tell you it’s unlikely that you’re much of a leader. 

Invest time this very day and each day to get to know the people you lead. Until you do they are probably not really following you and this much is certain, if no one is following then you ain’t leading. 

Get to know your people and Lead Today!

Leaders in Name Only

I haven’t written about this topic in a while but it remains timely. Sadly, I’m afraid it will always be a timely topic because there will always be individuals who occupy positions of leadership with no clue as to what actual leadership looks like. 

They are managers who may or may not even be attempting to lead. So, before we go any further let me say loud and clear, with no doubt whatsoever, that managers and effective management are vital to any organization that hopes to grow or even survive in these times. 

However managers and management are vastly different than leaders and leadership. Both are essential for long-term success. The challenge for many managers and management teams is that they make the mistake of thinking that what they are doing is leading. It is often not. 

Sometimes, hopefully most of the time, good managers are good leaders and good leaders are good managers. Being effective at both requires that you understand the difference between the two. 

Managing and management is about a whole host of things. THINGS, as in inanimate objects and stuff. You manage things like property, inventory, buildings, plans, and budgets. If “it” can’t think for itself and is incapable of becoming emotional when you yell at it (a copier comes to mind) then you manage it. 

Leading and leadership is about people. Only people. All people. You lead people. You don’t even lead a company, organization, or team. You lead the people who make up that company, organization, or team. 

No, I’m not splitting hairs here. The difference in mindset between someone attempting to manage people and someone actually leading people is huge. Attempting to manage another human being as if they were an inanimate object is the cause of the vast majority of personnel problems within organizations. 

I’ve known very few managers who thought they were treating their people as inanimate objects. But how the manager feels they are treating their people is of little importance. How the people feel they are being treated will determine whether or not they have a chance to reach their full potential. If you’re not interested in helping people achieve their full potential that’s a sure sign you’re a leader in name only. 

Most people don’t read the owners manual that comes with the “stuff” they buy. That’s kinda how a manager attempts to lead people. “Seen one ya seen ‘em all” is a manager mindset. They manage all their buildings the same and they manage all their people the same too. 

Leaders read the owners manual for everyone of the people they lead. They know that every single person they lead is a unique individual with their own set of goals, objectives, hopes, dreams and yes, problems. 

They get to know their people because they care for them as people. They want them to succeed, they want them to grow. They know that their own success as a leader is completely dependent upon the success of their people. 

So while the manager may “spend time on” their people the leader “invests time with” their people. The difference in how people respond is like night and day. 

We could go on and on about the differences between managing and leader but I’ll spare you for now. Let me however leave you with a couple of questions to consider. First, do you understand, really understand the difference between the two? What would your people say if I asked them? 

The second question is key because when it comes to leading an Authentic Leader knows it is the followers who make the leader. If your people don’t see you as a leader then you have some work to do cause if you’re not leading they aren’t following. No matter what you tell yourself. 

Exactly Who is the Idiot Here?

Hint…there are no idiots! 

I received a call from someone the other day asking for ideas on how they could build better relationships with their work colleagues. They were really struggling in this area because they don’t like working with people who are idiots. Idiot was their choice of words, not mine. 

I knew this was going to be an interesting conversation because I almost instantly believed I had figured out why this person might be “relationship challenged.” 

I began by asking how committed they were to improving their relationship with co-workers. They said they were very committed. I asked how they came to be “very” committed. They didn’t understand my question so I asked what caused them to become committed enough today to ask for help.  I pointed out that they could have asked yesterday or last week or last month.  

They replied that it had been recommended by their supervisor that they figure out a way to have these “better relationships.” That would be important if they hoped to advance within the company. 

Now that I understood the “motivation” for developing better relationships I asked them to quantify their level of commitment on a scale of one to ten. They immediately said a ten! Then I asked them to quantify their commitment level absent the “recommendation” from their boss. They had to think about that for a bit and eventually settled on a 3. 

When I asked why such a low commitment level they answered that they didn’t believe it was their responsibility to work well with idiots…there’s that word again. 

So then I asked if they could tell when talking with others if the person they were talking with thought they were an idiot. They answered yes. I asked how they could tell and they answered, “you just can.” Then I asked if that was some special gift of insight they possessed or if they thought other people could sense that as well. 

There was a rather lengthy silence on the phone at this point. 

I tried to lighten up the conversation a little bit by saying with a chuckle, “I think we may have discovered the way to better working relationships with your colleagues.”

They said they would stop thinking of others as idiots when they stopped being idiots. So I went back to my questioning. I asked how they interacted with people who treated them with disrespect, almost as if they were say… an idiot.

A bit more silence before I heard “I’ll treat “them” better when they treat me better.” 

I asked again about that commitment level of ten and why it was so high. They said they wanted a leadership position in their company and they knew they needed better relationships to get it. 

I told them that they already have a leadership position they just have to use it. Step one would be treating people, ALL PEOPLE, with respect. I said that would be easier to do if we realize that everyone knows something we don’t and we can learn from anyone. It’s unlikely we’re actually working with idiots. We are working with people who think differently than we do because their life experiences are different. 

They don’t know less than we do, they know different than we do. That means we can learn from them. It means we can learn from anyone. 

When we change our mindset from one of “people are idiots” to one of “I can learn from anyone” our relationships improve dramatically overnight. If you want better relationships with other people then don’t try to change them. Change your thinking about them.

That is what an Authentic Leader would do. If you want a higher position of leadership you should understand that you must lead from where you are before you can lead from somewhere else.

People, Expense or Investment?

There are two distinct mindsets in business today with regards to the people who make up an organization. One mindset, the one I’ll call a managerial mindset says that people are an expense. The other mindset, the one I’ll call a leadership mindset says that people are an investment. 

The difference between those two mindsets is huge!

Let’s say you’re currently occupying a leadership position and you have a team member who isn’t quite getting the job done. If you think to yourself you’re going to have to “spend time on” that person to get them up to speed then you likely have a managerial mindset.

On the other hand let’s say you see that same person. If you think to yourself I’m going to “invest time with” that person to help get them achieve their potential then you have a leadership mindset. 

Your mindset will affect every single interaction you have with your people. 

That’s because we almost instinctively manage expenses. The thought “spend time on” indicates you see people as an expense. Even if only subconsciously. Your people will pick up on that mindset and respond accordingly. They will act as an expense, someone merely hired to be a cog in the wheel. They will resist being the asset that they could be, even if only subconsciously. 

If you see your people as an expense then you will try to manage them. That will cause YOU enormous issues. Do you understand what that means? It means if you have personnel issues then your mindset towards your people is likely the biggest cause.  

When you have a leadership mindset your thoughts regarding people tend to be much more on the “invest time with” side. You realize people can’t be managed, they must be led. That mindset helps you to care about your people. You realize that your success as a leader is completely dependent upon the success of your people. 

Your people will pick up on that mindset and respond accordingly. They will see themselves as someone who brings value to the organization. They will understand that what they do matters and they will commit to do it to the best of their ability. They will give a 100% effort because they know you are committed to them and they will respond with a commitment of their own. 

There are no documented instances of organizations that saw their people as an expense succeeding long term. There are however well documented instances of companies that were in business a long time “adapting” their thinking to one of “people are an expense.” Their demise soon followed. 

By the way, if you’re wondering why a company would suddenly change to a “people are an expense” philosophy I have a one word explanation for you. Consultant! Actually that’s not fair, most consultants are firmly on the “people are an investment” side. It’s the big consulting firms who promote the “people are an expense” concept. They encourage companies to save money by cutting people expenses. They also encourage you to pay them a substantial percentage of that “savings.” 

If you’re in a leadership position then you should know that your first investment must be in your people. New people, young people, experienced people are all worthy investments. Those investments provide a near guaranteed ROI for your organization. 

If your plan to make money includes cutting expenses by cutting people then you should know that’s very short term thinking. You should also know that short term thinking never leads to long term success.

Look and Listen

One of the primary responsibilities of leadership is to coach the people you lead. We coach to reinforce positive behavior, we coach to motivate, and sometimes we must coach for corrective action. 

Most often that coaching is in the form of talking. We advise, we suggest, and hopefully not very often, we tell. 

So here’s two pieces of advice for the next time you find yourself in a coaching situation. 

First listen to what you’re saying. I’m serious about that…really listen. In fact, record the conversation and when you play it back listen to what YOU said. Listen to the tone of your voice. Were you speaking in positives and possibilities or were you speaking in negatives and consequences? 

Were you specific in why you’re coaching or did you leave the person you were coaching wondering what the conversation was really about. If you were coaching for corrective action were you very very specific in what needs to change and when? Were you crystal clear in how that change would be measured? Did you leave doubt about your expectations? Any doubt leaves a gray area. Coaching for corrective action requires that you “paint” your expectations in black and white as much as possible.

It’s important to know that when you allow gray areas while coaching for corrective action you give people a place to hide from responsibility. Shades of gray make for a mighty comfortable place to hide from change as well. 

More important than listening to yourself is looking at yourself. As a leader your people will do what you DO far faster than they will do what you SAY. If you’re coaching them towards a better attitude and your attitude sucks then all the words in the world aren’t going to change their attitude. 

As their leader YOU are their model for successful behavior. Whether you realize it or not, YOU are leading by example. If your words do not match your actions then your people will have to make a choice.

Do they do what you say or do they do what you do? They may not believe what they hear but they almost always will believe what they see. 

They will do what you do!

If you’re going to help your people trust what you say then your actions MUST match your words. If you force them to make a choice between “say” or “do” they will choose do and your chances of truly leading them will go the way of the dodo bird.

In both cases, listening to yourself and looking at yourself, you need to be completely honest. Authentic Leaders do not lie to themselves. Do not cut yourself an ounce of slack, if you think your tone was too negative then fix it. If you find that your actions are not a mirror image of your words then change your actions or change your words. 

They MUST match. 

Remember, you may hold a leadership position but your journey to Authentic Leadership never stops. You can and should continue to learn and grow, exactly like the people you lead.