By Lance LeBlanc
Over the years, our coaching team has facilitated hundreds of workshops with thousands of leaders around the world. In nearly every workshop we ask a simple question. “What makes a great team?” We get lots of answers, but the most common answer might be a bit surprising. Communication. Good communication, to be specific. When asked, it’s as if they’ve been waiting for years to get this answer off their chest. The word “communication!” comes flying out as though this is the last opportunity they’ll ever have to voice their opinion on the matter.
Why the passion? Why the urgency? We have found, it’s not because they read the concept in a book, or because they are seeing it demonstrated well in the workplace. As we press a little harder on the issue, we find that people are passionate about good communication because it so rarely exists. Most people we talk to feel uninformed or simply unheard. And when people feel unheard, they begin to disengage. Here are just 4 things your people wish you knew.
1. “I’m better at my job than you think”
Seriously. One of the fastest ways to de-motivate your team is to micromanage them. I understand that some people really like it when their leader is actively engaged with their work, but others just want some space to do what they love and are great at. The leader’s job is to make the call on how much space to give. The leader assesses their competency level and the leadership requirements of each employee. If they are qualified for their job, let them do it.If they aren’t, either train them or replace them. When you micromanage, it’s as though you are telling them, “I don’t trust you to do it right”. This erodes trust, frustrates the employee and wears you out.
2. “I really want to make you happy”
It may not seem like it all the time, but it’s true. Your people want to do the right thing and they want to know where to improve. Everyone makes mistakes, but deep down, most people know when they’ve messed up and really desire to get it right and please you. They hate it when you are disappointed in them. Don’t take their mistakes personally. Seek to understand what really happened, and then together, discover what to do differently next time. You set the tone. How do you handle failure? Do you huff and moan or explode when things don’t go right? Or do you calmly engage the issue or person and look for the solution?
3. “I wish you listened to my ideas”
Four simple words: “what do you think?”. Your people have great ideas. Ask them. I once heard a story about a hospital that was having a sudden problem with a rise in cases of staph infections in their patients. It was serious. No one could figure out the root of the problem. They tried everything. One day as they were meeting to discuss possible solutions, a custodian passed by and was asked to join the meeting and weigh in. When he learned what was happening he had a surprising idea. He informed them that several months ago, in order to save money, the hospital started using a cheaper cleaning product. Right about the time they saw the rise in cases of staph infections. The hospital immediately went back to the superior cleaning product and the issue cleared up. Thankfully, that leader had the courage to ask for help. When leaders ask their people, “what do you think?” it creates buy in. People feel valued when their ideas are heard. When the best ideas are exchanged and chosen based on merit…. your people will believe in the idea and engage with it.
4. “There are things I’m not telling you”
It’s the leaders job to know what’s going on. Unfortunately, leaders at the top can often be oblivious to the most critical weaknesses in themselves, their decisions and in their organization. They sometimes live in what I call “The CEO Bubble”. It works like this: The higher you are in the organization, the more you become removed from “common” people. (I put common in quotes because your people are anything but “common”.) Because your responsibilities are huge, you only have time to spend with the most important people. As those people rise in the organization around you, they have more to lose. There’s more at stake. If you’re not careful, you end up creating a bubble for you and your closest team. Those inside the bubble can become blind to your challenges because they are too close or become too afraid of speaking up for fear of what they might lose. Those outside the bubble feel they have no access to you and even if they did, their voice has no impact. This is a problem.
We always urge our clients and leaders to break out of the bubble, have critical conversations and ask their people for feedback. There are amazing ideas at every level of your organization, but don’t assume they are telling you everything. Your people are a wealth of information but often hold back because they are afraid. Joseph Grenny, author of Crucial Conversations, says “You can measure the health of a team or organization by measuring the number of undiscussables”. That’s a sobering thought.
What’s off the table for you? What’s the topic that everyone talks about at the water cooler, but no one would dare tell you? What are people afraid to bring up in front of you?