The "F" Word


There, I said it.

Most of us have been conditioned to not discuss how we’re feeling at work. Maybe we’ve had leaders who didn’t do it, so we grew up in the workplace thinking it was taboo. Or our current boss judged us for sharing something pretty personal so we shut down and stopped altogether. Or we don’t even think about it because we’re by nature introverted or results focused and could care less about uncovering how someone is feeling.

In Gallup’s 2016 State of the American Workplace report, only 21% of employees say they are managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. If you have a team of four, that’s one person. One.

We can’t live like this.

Motivating employees is an art, but it all boils down to one thing: the need to be noticed. Ask me how I’m feeling – you’ve noticed me. Talk through goal setting and help me understand the strategic plan – you’ve noticed me. Give me feedback (positive or constructive) – you’ve noticed me.

When we don’t discuss feelings, we are leaving out a critical part of motivating an employee. Being able to openly share is a gift, and it doesn’t come naturally for a lot of teams, which means it’s up to the leader to ask the right questions.

·        What’s been your biggest success this week? What are you most proud of?

·        How are you feeling about __ project right now? Why is that?

·        What can I do to help you feel that your work is meaningful?

·        What in your work is really inspiring right now?

·        What are your top work values? How are they being met right now?

Feelings. We all have them, yet at work we pretend not to have them. We sit in 1:1s with our boss and say everything is fine, or don’t share about the big personal issue at home that’s affecting our ability to concentrate, or see our boss’s poker face all the time and think that’s the only way we’re supposed to be.

Or, we want to share but are never given the chance.

There's a new "F" word on the block. And using it could make all the difference.

Check Your Intentions at the Door

Tone is everything, No wait, word choice is everything. No, it's timing. Timing is everything.

There are so many components of "good" communication that its hard to remember what do to (or say). This means it's our subconscious that is usually guiding the conversation.

Subconscious? Yes. The part of our brain that is shaped by life - how we were raised, how we've been treated by others, the types of work experiences we've had.

It looks like:

Interrupting (without thinking "is now the right time to share my idea?") because of the excitement to share or the fear that it is going to be impossible to get a word in edge wise.

Yelling (without thinking "if I put myself in her shoes, how would she feel if I yelled?") at an employee when a deadline is missed because of pressure from the boss or numbness to the effect of yelling in the workplace.

Firing off a rude email (without thinking "should I call him or walk over to his desk instead?") because a colleague messed up on a project and wanting him to feel bad about it because that's what's been done to you in the past.

You get the picture. It's speaking without thinking. Everyone does it, but frequency is the difference. If 90% of the time you are thinking before speaking, then very rarely do you say something rude, embarrass an employee, or come across as inflexible (or worse, arrogant). Because that means you're checking your intention at the door.

  • Am I saying this to purposely be rude?
  • Could how I'm saying this be taken the wrong way?
  • How is this person feeling right now?

When we pay attention to our intention, then tone, timing and word choice become irrelevant. If we intend to be mean, our actions reflect it, but if we intend to be kind, which is what I wholeheartedly believe all people intend, then our actions reflect kindness. And how much better does it feel when we work with people who 90% of the time purposely intend to be kind, and when they mess up the other 10%, realize what they've done and apologize for it?

Next time you walk into a meeting, pause at the door and ask yourself "What are my intentions for this meeting?" It will change the conversation.

The Engagement Myth

 A lot of leaders lie to themselves. They think they have a high performing team and that their employees are happy. They think they are doing everything right. They think no one is job hunting.

Source: Gallup

Source: Gallup

Wait- what? 87% of employees are actively disengaged?

Yep. And in another recent Gallup poll, 60% of millennials are open to different job opportunities right now and only 50% plan to be with their company one year from now. 

Leaders, if you assume everything is ok with your team, you're going to be disappointed. Check your behaviors, because is something from the list below is missing, you're fostering disengagement. 

  • Setting clear goals
  • Communicating a vision
  • Offering support and encouragement
  • Providing stimulating work
  • Focusing on team interests and needs
  • Setting a good example
  • Interacting with employees daily
  • Providing opportunities for recognition

There are some factors of disengagement you can't control. But these you can. So if you aren't doing them, start (and boy is this book a good resource). And if you are doing them, reevaluate their frequency and effectiveness. It's worth it.

5 Tips to Improve the Way You Delegate

Delegating should be the ultimate goal of every leader. When delegating appropriately, it means the employee has enough knowledge and engagement to complete the task without help. And that frees the leader up to do other things. Priceless. 

I see a lot of leaders who don't delegate properly, and in the end decide to "just do it myself" because delegating is too much of a hassle. Stop! If you are frustrated and want to just do the task yourself, you're not delegating correctly. Try these tips to improve how you delegate: 

1. Make sure the employee has enough knowledge to actually achieve the goal. Recently a coworker shared a situation where her boss had given her a project to manage with an outside consultant without giving her the context or expectations. She didn't know what to do and felt overwhelmed because she wasn't sure what was supposed to be done. Her boss didn't check in or answer emails, which was even more frustrating. What do you think happened? 

2. Make sure the employee is motivated enough to follow through. Here's what happened - she stopped caring. She was so frustrated that she stopped making an agenda for project meetings and stopped answering email after hours from the consultant. After a month her boss stepped in and reprimanded her for not doing a better job and took over the project himself. After this happened, How do you think the boss felt about the employee, and how do you think she felt about her boss? 

3. Check in. Good delegating isn't just a hand off. Leaders still need to check in with the employee to make sure they aren't struggling and to clear roadblocks. I see too many leaders who don't think they need to check in with an employee once they've handed off a task because they view delegation as being completely hands off (which is what happened to my colleague).

4. Ask the right questions. With delegation comes autonomy, which means that when checking in, the leader should be the one who talks the least. Asking good, open-ended questions will help make the meeting productive: 

  • What would you like to talk about? Tell me what you're most excited about this week.
  • What feedback have you been getting? Who else should know about this?
  • Where do you want more influence?
  • What do you need from me to make this easier? 
  • How do you want to keep me informed?

5. Give positive feedback. Employees who have high knowledge and high engagement don't need their hand held. They do everything right, are self-motivated, and work best when you don't step in. But that doesn't mean they don't need positive feedback. Be sure to say "I so appreciate ..." or "You have made a major contribution by ..." regularly so they know they're doing a good job. Everyone loves to hear that their leader appreciates what they've done.

Thoughts on Leadership Development

This week I spent time with 20 leaders who went through our "Leadership Bootcamp" experience. The two day course was designed to help take their skills to the next level. (See my previous post, Creating a Leadership Bootcamp)

We had great discussions and I've been thinking about a few things that really stuck out for the participants: 

Don't mistake enthusiasm for knowledge. In the "Decoding Leadership Styles" session the group talked about how to uncover if an employee is competent enough to complete a specific task or goal, because many times that can be overshadowed by their excitement to do a good job. Asking  "What's working? What's not working?" or "Can you update me on your goals?" should give you enough information to determine if the employee needs more direction from you.

Giving constructive feedback is hard. No one likes to give negative feedback. First, put yourself in the mindset that it's not negative feedback you're giving, it's constructive. The word choice matters, because constructive indicates that you want to help the employee work on the behavior. Also, don't gorge the employee on feedback (how would you feel after eating a quadruple cheeseburger?). Graze. Only share one behavior and avoid phrases like "you always do this" or "you never do this." Those absolutes make the conversation more difficult.

Modeling the right behaviors matters. During bootcamp each executive spoke to the group about their leadership journey and what skills have made them successful. They talked about the importance of getting feedback and actually listening to it, taking risks and failing, and delegating to employees so they feel empowered to make decisions. If we expect our first and second level leaders to have these behaviors, they have to be getting it from the executive level.