One of the most persistent of all temptations as a leader when arriving at the workplace is to greet employees swiftly and then “escape” to the office to deal with the pressing needs of the day. E-mails, spreadsheets, reports and planning are all necessary components of managing processes and systems to get optimal results, but the key ingredients of winning in terms of results are your people. Yes, employees have a job to do and they know what needs to be done, but without acknowledgement and appropriate encouragement and recognition, work for them becomes a mundane process which they have to do to make ends meet. Their hearts become distant and their energy wanes. Focus is diluted and their minds get busy with other non-work-related issues.

To achieve laser focus amongst employees regarding strategic imperatives, leaders need to be mentally, physically and emotionally present. This requires two distinct steps for the leader:

  1. Back up – taking time to understand where all staff members are in their respective personal and work journeys and defining “the next steps” for each one to make progress. This involves asking oneself some of the following questions for each employee:
    1. What is the quality of our relationship? Is there something I can do to enhance it and further grow trust between us?
    2. Where do I see this person in five years’ time? Is there anything I can do to accelerate this person’s growth?
    3. Are there any performance issues that I need to address? Does this person need further training or coaching?
    4. Do I sense that this person is enjoying working with me and the rest of the team? Do any relationships need healing?
    5. Plan appropriate conversations to address any of the above issues
  2. Show up – leaders need to be deliberate in their approach to employees (planned conversations, events and meetings). Tim Tassopoulos (Chik-fil-A) noted: “Leadership is intentional influence”. The leader should thus intentionally create opportunity for meaningful “manager with employee” conversations to achieve growth and performance objectives and develop the team culture. These include:
    1. Have fun – laugh a lot with team members. The work environment should be a fun place in which to work.
    2. Encourage – spur your team members on to greatness. Offer support when needed and even “get your hands dirty” on occasion, but never do their work for them.
    3. Coach – great performance comes from great coaching. Spend time soliciting ideas for performance improvement from them and remove any obstacles to performance that might exist.
    4. Be fair – no favouritism. Speak up when issues need to be addressed and be even and calm in approach to everyone.
    5. Acknowledge – be grateful for everyone’s contribution and express thankfulness frequently.
    6. Recognise – great effort and going the extra mile by employees requires appropriate recognition and celebration.
    7. Inform – frequently speak to “big picture” direction and offer information liberally. Employees want to be informed to give them a sense of certainty about the near future.
    8. Care – take interest in your people, their circumstances and their lives. Demonstrate that you care for them personally.

Managers need to “back up” (take time to understand the progress of each employee in terms of their respective journeys) and then “show up” (being deliberate in addressing all the issues with employees that make for better relationships and team work). Leadership is indeed intentional influence.

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