The act of Leadership creates a lot of questions, particularly if you feel you’ve been promoted, but not prepared for your position. However, in the course of sharing two new webinars this week and three keynotes in the last two weeks, one common theme continued to come up and stick around. Leaders care. No matter the question, they care. No matter the problem, they care. No matter the issue, they care. But, could leadership really be that simple? Is just caring really enough to lead? Let’s see. The following are a sampling of the most common leadership questions asked by many of the amazing managers I’ve worked with recently:
How do you motivate employees?
Answer: You care about what they need. If motivating employees is what you want, caring enough to find out what they want is where you start. People will harder for what they want. They will work longer hours to get what they really want. Employees will sell more, cold call more, work with others they dislike more, and even do cartwheels across the floor if what you’re offering as a reward is close enough to what they really want. But, you have to care enough to find out more, ask more, and dig deeper instead of assuming simply continuing to pay someone is motivation enough to keep her.
How do you create a team with engaged employees?
Answer: You care about what they do and say. In my recent webinar: How to Engage, Influence, and Motivate Employees, some of the steps provided to create greater employee engagement, included: ask for employee’s input, act on employee feedback, and consistently show and remind employees that their contributions have value. To take the time to ask for their opinion, you have to care in some way about what they say. To act on their feedback, you have to care in some way about how they feel and what they see in the company. To show employees you value what they do, you have to care in some way about taking time away from the rest of what you do, to share an encouraging word or two.
How do you keep them from hurting your feelings?
Answer: You care about what they say. Leaders do have a thick skin and they know that on any given day, 50% of employees will like them and another 50% will either not care or completely disagree with what they say. But, they care enough to notice the ratio and monitor it if the “dislike” group gets too large. Perhaps the decisions being made to move the company forward are no longer in line with that group or perhaps their vocalization of how they feel about your leadership is pointing out a blind spot or innocently misinterpreted behavior.
How do you get all of your work done?
Answer: You care enough to take the time to properly prioritize. Some could say a leader’s work is never done. Still more might have noticed that becoming a manager or leading a team is not always fun. Part of becoming a better leader is caring enough about your list of things to do, to take the time to prioritize time for them, truly urgent items, and recharge time for you. This means that constantly flitting about from this to that shiny thing and complaining of never getting anything done, shows a leader’s lack of prioritization and focus on what’s really important.
How do you compel star performers to do even more?
Answer: You care enough about the company’s performance and the results of the team you lead to investigate the skills, resources, tools, or cleared barriers that those star performers need. Most managers, as is widely known, spend the majority of their time with those whose results are lower and as a result, show they care more about the poor performer. The question becomes, when you’re leading, is your focus on both the results of the company, the results of the team and the results of each of those team members you’re leadin?. A leader can’t focus on all three at one time, but the best ones know where to spend the bulk of their time on any given day, showing an equitable distribution, over time, of care in all three areas.
How do you Correct Poor Performance?
Answer: You care enough to persistently and consistently set standards, clarify expectations, prioritize your time, and coach those not in-line. The act of coaching them will often reveal a misalignment in roles, a firm hold on their focus by a personal matter, or a dire deficiency of skills that can be learned. If none of those areas are fixable or become more clearly permanent, a caring leader cares enough to keep those who perform best and face the tough conversation that enables them to free up the rest. If a performance problem persists or becomes permanent, it’s likely those not doing well over a long period of time are not happy in their jobs. One way to correct this, care enough about the other members of the team you lead and your company, by helping them become available to find a new position.
While not an exhaustive list of the questions managers ask or the issues leaders face, these would easily fall in my experience of the top ten. Each and every time I find the answer of “Care enough to…” provides a different angle from which to approach the issue. It is not the only answer of course, but it is, in nearly all cases, a powerful place from which to start.