A friend of mine told me about one of his employees who repeatedly came late to work. The young man was hard-working and focused, so performance was no issue. He just started work late each day and if unaddressed by management, would send all the wrong messages to the rest of the staff. His manager asked him to be on time, then warned him about being late, then filed an official warning letter, but still the employee arrived late for work, usually breathless as he hurried to attempt to be at work on time. My friend suggested to the manager that he first ask about the context, about the employee’s morning routine. The employee explained, rather sheepishly, that his grandmother woke him up every morning as he slept soundly and needed to be literally shaken awake to rouse him from under the duvet. My friend asked the manager and the employee to meet the grandmother. In their interaction with her, they found out that every day she waited for the first light of the sun and then went to wake up her grandson, perhaps not giving him sufficient time to get ready and get to work on time. The manager then promptly went to purchase a cheap alarm clock and gave the same to the grandmother, explaining how to set it for an earlier wake-up routine. The employee has subsequently never been late for work again, performing now a full day’s work. Understanding the employee’s context was essential to get desirable results.

Being in leadership in the business environment is overwhelming – a plethora of e-mails to get through, meetings (maybe too many of them), contact with clients, administration, budgets, financial reports, etc. Leaders seemingly struggle to make time to connect with those that work for them, have few conversations of real value and usually end up issuing instructions and asking for reports rather than having conversations that produce understanding – getting to grips with an individual’s skills, giftedness and the uniqueness of their potential contribution. As such, many gifted employees process mundane work on a daily basis without really using their potential appropriately in the work context.

Business leaders need to know the following about staff:

  • Aspirations – how an individual would like to grow and what he or she would ultimately like to be doing in terms of a career
  • Training needs – appropriate development closes skills gaps and gives individuals more confidence
  • Unique giftedness – such ability can be channelled correctly and the employee will find fulfilment in using the same
  • Ability to self-manage – over-managing one who is self-motivating and organised will produce frustration
  • Personal milestones – birthdays, wedding anniversaries, educational achievements, etc. Recognising these appropriately creates an environment where staff feel that they belong and are valued
  • Leadership ability – nurturing the growth of staff who exhibit leadership characteristics is wise for succession planning and potential future promotions

Business leaders need to understand (get to know) their staff to optimise their real potential. Investing time, energy and effort into these relationships gives the manager good insight into gaps in the business, perceived obstacles that perhaps hinder performance and giftedness that can be used for future projects. Furthermore, all staff need to believe that they are cared for – this environment will itself motivate employees to give their best.

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