When my children were very young, there were certain environments where my wife and I “let them loose” to play to their heart’s content. They were free to run around and use their pent-up energy in the most creative ways, playing hide-and-seek, jumping up and down, kicking a ball or being innovative with their toys. We had initially checked the environment to make sure it was safe. Knowing that the area was children-friendly allowed everyone to relax and to get on with their respective chosen pursuits. There were contexts, however, where letting children loose would simply be negligent – a busy airport, congested public areas and, of course, streets and roads that carried heavy traffic. Interestingly, in these crowded areas, out of fear, my children thought they were holding their dad’s hands. What they found out, however, when attempting to dart away into possible imminent danger, was that I was holding their hands. They weren’t going to get through the danger because they were so good at holding on to my hands, but because I was so good at holding their hands.
In the workplace, there are moments where employees need more support from their leaders than at other times – amongst others, a crisis, a severe deadline, the loss of a colleague, danger and criticism from another division or department. The reassuring presence of the leader and an encouraging word go a long way to put minds at rest and refocus effort. An absent or silent leader, however, displays a lack of care, even negligence perhaps, whilst employees battle with major obstacles. Communication deficit during these times creates an environment of alienation and anxiety, leaving staff in the dark with little or no guidance.
Leaders need to be close to their employees, especially when:
- They are new on the job – induction programmes usually prove to be insufficient to enable employees to feel fully integrated into the work environment. Showing interest in their work and comfort is particularly helpful when new on the job.
- Work pressure is relentless – extreme deadlines and workload can cause exhaustion and mental fatigue. Managers need to be assessing each person’s workload and apportion the tasks appropriately across the team. Temporary staff may need to be employed to lessen the burden.
- Emotion is present – harmful emotion and sentiment can be destructive and can negatively impact the fluid functioning of a team. Emotion always needs to be debriefed – this should be undertaken as soon as possible by the manager. Positive alternatives need to be sought.
- Managers make mistakes – leaders make plenty of errors, so should be quick to apologise and ask for forgiveness appropriately. A manager who is big enough to apologise for wrong-doing earns respect in the eyes of those who report to him/her.
- The team is unfairly criticised – criticism is always negative and evokes feelings of anger and frustration. Managers should protect their respective teams from other departmental jabs and stand up for them before the rest of the organisation. Where the team has indeed made a mistake, the manager needs to apologise to the organisation on the team’s behalf and the team has to rectify the situation.
- There is some form of pain – from time to time, colleagues may be injured in an accident or there may be the loss of a loved one. This is an important time for the team – managers should rally the team and debrief the emotion with them.
- Personal friction arises – facilitating reconciliation swiftly is critical for the ongoing functioning of the team. Restoring trust and an environment where people feel good about themselves and working together is paramount for delivering results.
Leaders need to support their staff. Employees crave leadership presence and want to hear what the leader has to say in any given situation. Managerial silence or absence leads to frustration and a resultant lack of focus, thus impacting potential results negatively. Managerial support, on the other hand, is motivational and encouraging.