Leaders are indeed human and because of that they’re all different. Some have an abundance of stereotypical people skills and some would prefer not talking to people at all. Both benefit from using said people skills when working with the people they have the privilege of leading, but knowing about those skills, knowing they are important, and using them are three very different things. Most offices run at a quick clip. Orders are needed, numbers must be achieved, target and plan are the focus, and stress is the resulting outcome. The people skills that matter most are the very same ones that go flying out the window in times like these. The very behaviors those you lead need to see in order to believe you’re not only authentic, but a real human who gets them and cares about their needs, are, yep, you guessed it, the ones that evaporate the fastest when someone is not on target and you’re the leader being fussed at because of his or her performance. For those reasons and many others, in times of stress, your humanity tends to go out the window and these people skills become ones you’re not likely using.
Any type A person or leader who embodies these types of traits, will tell you he or she can barely spell patience, much less demonstrate any. Whether it is impatience in driving to the goal, with wanting the numbers to improve, or with wanting that deal to close, there is a time and place to push and also a time to be patient. When it comes to people and their development, patience is tricky, but needed. How long do you give that employee to learn the new skill? How long do you wait until they get up to speed? These time frames and learning curves, and skill development, are different for each person, but the key is to be patient when it comes to learning and then to set boundaries, guidelines, and time frames that are appropriate for the person and the difficulty or complexity of the skill you wish them to learn. Also, remember the time when you were just beginning and didn’t have the expertise that now seems a given.
It is when we forget to be authentic and forget how long it took us to learn something, that employees begin to call leaders inauthentic. It is often in those same times that leaders begin to say “just trust me”, as if this request fulfills an employee’s criteria for a leader they deem trustworthy. It does not. The people skill of trust for leaders works in a similar manner. Employees who don’t perform are not then trusted to produce the desired outcome. Leaders who fail to trust that an employee’s competence or capacity begin to make decisions prematurely. Leaders who withhold trust until the team or employee proves it’s worth giving, miss real opportunities to foster loyalty. Show your humanity. Amplify that humanity even by taking the risk to trust those you have the privilege of leading. This may also entail a leader’s willingness to let go of control, rely on another person, ask for help, or any number of other behaviors with which new leaders struggle.
There is listening and there is hearing. The two are different. If we’re also talking about humanity and being authentic, listening should give others a chance to feel heard, whereas hearing simply gives the leader a chance to take in more data or input. Which one are you doing? Are you taking in more input and gathering data without really understanding the perspective of the person? If so, you are merely hearing what the employee or colleague, or client has to say. When a leader truly listens, much more intel is gathered than the mere words used to convey the message. Through listening leaders gather clues to the next question. Those clues remain hidden and unnoticed if the leader is merely hearing the words and awaiting the ideal time to inject his or her opinion. Not only are there different levels of listening, usually based on how much and how well and how closely you are paying attention, but there are also a wide variety of feelings employees develop when they feel a leader is not listening at a level appropriate for the message. How often do you stop what you’re doing and really listen? How closely are you paying attention to what the employees you lead are trying to tell you?
Employees, as well as people in general, want others to be interested in what they are doing or saying. Interested is not the same as hovering like a helicopter but is more closely related to that of being curious. Questions like What is new with you? or What are you up to? can convey interest. Whereas questions such as What were you thinking? or What is your problem? sound like accusations. Do you have interest in the needs and motivations of those you lead? Then ask questions. Show interest. Is your only interest in how well they do what needs to be done to get your job done and make you look better? If the answer is yes, it is likely you’re in the wrong position. Leaders truly care about the people they have the privilege of leading. Take an interest in what they need, how they see things, their joy or misery in the position you’ve put them in, and how to help them maximize the skills and talents they bring with them. Your level of interest in them will typically mirror and be just about even with the level of interest they show in following you and in their position.
“Who doesn’t enjoy laughing? It’s ‘the great diffuser’ of tension and conflict. If you can jam the system of tension or routine with levity, you will thrive in your job,” says Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant. “It was once said that ‘nobody ever died of laughter,’ and if you can retain some lightheartedness in your job, you’re likely to get more air time during meetings and overall.” Add to that the immediate reduction in worry, fear, nerves, or awkward feelings, when laughter ensues and you have even more reason to avoid the blues. Humor is a people skill that has great value and yet, is also often confused with sarcasm, making fun of others, or condescension. Find the humor that breaks the tension. Share the humor in even the worst of challenges. Mutually laugh at a situation, NOT a person. Leaders who bring humor, a touch of levity, and an approach that all you can do sometimes is laugh like your life depends on it, often find that it is their team who starts to depend more and more on their leadership. This is a people skill hard to fake, much needed, and that doesn’t get the credit for the value received from it.
People skills are so much more than how you relate or if you relate to others well at all. People skills are how you not only get along with people, but understand people, can read people, and can connect with people. The better your people skills the further you will excel because in all cases, you will be tasked with working with and leading people. The more development is needed in your ability to connect with different types of other people, the more slowly your promotions or special assignments or opportunities will tend to be revealed. People skills are required for leading people and yes, these skills are contagious. However, keep in mind the skills you use when working with people will need to be different for different people and the skills that are usually seen as the most important are the ones we tend to forget to use most often.
Ready to Take the Become a Better Leader Challenge?
Each Monday Moment shares a Become a Better Leader Challenge relevant to that week’s topic. This week your challenge is of course around people skills.
- Pick 2-3 people with whom you struggle to connect or lead
- Identify what are the primary obstacles for relationship building
- Break down one of those barriers for each of your 2-3 people.
You’re on your way and you’re ready to become that better leader by Monday.
I’m Monica Wofford and that’s your Monday Moment. Have a great week and of course, stay Contagious!
Monica Wofford, CSP develops leaders. CEO of Contagious Companies, her firm designs and delivers leadership training for those managers who’ve been promoted, but not prepared. Author of Contagious Leadership and Make Difficult People Disappear, Monica may be reached at www.ContagiousCompanies.com, www.MonicaWofford.com or by calling 1-866-382-0121.