As a leader, your first job is to create a profitable and sustainable business. Your second job is to develop talent and support your team.
If you’re not prioritizing your team, you’re failing your team, your business, and yourself. The success of your business is 100% dependent on the success of your people.
To create a healthy culture, your team needs to know that you care and you’re there to support them, regardless of how convenient it is for you. Too many leaders commit to being there for the team, but what they really mean is, “I’m there when it’s convenient for me.”
Teams pick up on your true commitment very quickly. Without 100% energy devoted to the team, non-issues become small issues and small issues become significant ones. Just like positive energy, negative energy is contagious. It’s incumbent on leaders to manage the ups & downs of the team’s feelings – ensuring that rough patches don’t turn into structural issues.
It’s hard to motivate people and keep them inspired through the ups and downs of business. Everyone has bad days, both leaders and those subjected to following leaders. As much as you focus on creating a positive environment, negativity will rear its ugly head from time to time. It’s crucial to develop a sixth sense for how people are feeling so you can understand when issues are brewing before they become a big deal.
Over time, my team has shared I have a “sixth sense” that enables me to identify when someone is down or a bit rattled. I’m quick to jump in and look for a small way to make that person more confident or more optimistic about where we’re heading and the importance of that role. Sometimes, it’s a quick reassurance and other times it’s a broader conversation. No matter what’s needed, it’s important that the right time, place, and delivery be chosen.
When challenges arise, true leaders get to work. It’s always about the team first, so if there’s a signal of distress from someone on your team, it’s absolutely critical that we get to work. Here’s what I’ve found to be successful when things didn’t seem quite right with someone on my team:
Listen and watch.
During high-stakes meetings, tough decisions need to be made. Feedback is delivered. Disagreements arise. Right and wrong decisions are made. Communications are imperfect. That’s all part of business. Even during healthy spirited debates and discussions (which should be encouraged), it’s important to be conscious about how everyone is reacting to the situation. Leaders embrace the role of observer & closely analyze how everyone is feeling. When people care, emotion is involved and if you’re looking for it, you’ll find clues when something isn’t 100% right with your team. Look for emotion and body language that deviates from typical behavior ever so slightly.
I like to take a mental note of people’s energy both during meetings and AFTER meetings. I look for changes in eye contact, changes in words used during conversational exchanges, and body language cues:
When someone who is usually ‘great’ answers that they are ‘pretty good, thanks’ – there’s a good chance they are rattled.
When an extrovert opts out of office chitchat following a spirited meeting – there’s a good chance they are rattled.
When someone in a meeting starts to respond saying only “okay” on multiple occasions while looking away – there’s a good chance they are rattled.
If you have an inkling someone is rattled, trust yourself and your instincts – there’s a good chance they are rattled.
Give a Little Space.
After sensing someone is rattled, I try to give him or her a little time before I do anything. Bringing up the situation too soon when adrenaline is still pumping and emotions are raw means that someone is likely to avoid talking about the issue or say something that’s entirely based on emotion. It’s classic fight or flight reaction. Neither of these are good outcomes when you want to engage and help the team, so be patient.
Of course, you also don’t want to let negative energy fester, so choosing when to engage is a balancing act between timeliness and patience. I usually wait between two hours to one week. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate that the right situation and location for a follow-up conversation matters more than the right time. The more you care enough to follow-up with a rattled team member, the better your sense for knowing the right time and place to intervene.
Schedule Regular Gatherings Out of The Office.
While it can be hard to read that a particular situation has frustrated someone, it’s much easier to recognize when someone is having a frustrating period. Once you identify that someone is experiencing a rough patches, it’s a great opportunity for leaders to re-affirm they care and share an ear. Casually saying, “We need to grab lunch soon” or “We should get a coffee” is always welcomed with open arms. Seize it! Spend time with someone who might be feeling vulnerable or frustrated and you’ll learn a lot about your organization.
Schedule the time. Then listen. Ask how they are feeling about things and generally give a shit. It goes a long way. Don’t feel pressured to talk about any single incident – just show that you care and you’re a true ally. Your time and open questions in challenging times are a great way to create an empowered trusting team in the long run.
Be a Chameleon
After I’ve noticed a particular meeting or situation was troubling for someone on my team, I take a mental snapshot and seek out a chance to connect with him or her. What happens next is the real magic.
I create an opportunity for a comfortable setting to talk with this person informally. For some, it’s early in the morning before others arrive. For others, it’s late at night after everyone else has left. Maybe it’s in a meeting room after a different discussion, on a walk, or at the bar.
Be a chameleon and change your style to what’s comfortable for the other person. I’ve found that many people respond more favorably to meetings out of the office. There’s something liberating about being in a different environment, but there’s also no one-size fits all approach. Remember, it doesn’t matter what you prefer – it’s about what the person on your team responds best to. Know your team and connect on their turf.
Share a Short Observation and Shut-Up.
Once I’ve found time together with someone, I’ve had success sharing my observation and immediately getting out of the way. Think of yourself as the quarterback with the ball…throw the football before you get crushed by the defense. Don’t set up your viewpoint, go into tons of background, or start to pontificate on historical factors. Just throw the football. Share your observation…
Here’s the script that I’ve seen successful time and time again. There’s no need to deviate from this – just keep it simple:
“I wanted to follow up with you and see how you’re doing. You seemed frustrated during/after the meeting with John last week.”
The next step here is key:
Their job is to think and speak. Your job is to listen and see what you can learn and how you can help. Sometimes the best thing to do is communicate you understand their frustration and leave it there. When people know someone cares, issues often stop dead in their tracks. I’ve learned a lot over time by keeping my eyes and ears open.
Leaders inspire others to be better in their presence. They speak frankly and are willing to plainly communicate when results aren’t up to par. They encourage others and bring positivity into every room they enter. And perhaps most importantly, they are tuned into their team and willing to invest their own time and energy to support others. People work where they know their leaders give a shit.
How will you show your team that you care?