Great Leaders Know…
Great leaders know… If you don’t know your people you can’t lead them – at least not very well. How could you? Well, your answer could be that you are the boss and you can make them do anything that fits into their job description – right? Yes. However, that is not being a leader; that is being a bully. Using fear, sarcasm, and ridicule to make things happen does not make you a leader. Will that type of behavior work? Yes, for a short time. And in that short time you will sew discontent, resentment, and poor morale that will grip your subordinates and they will either leave for greener pastures, or you will be shown the door because your team’s productivity is so abysmal.
How about an example? You are a supervisor in a large company. You have about 15 people working for you. They all work 8am-5pm, Monday through Friday. It’s Friday afternoon about 3:45 pm, and you go over to Bob (“reliable Bob” is how you think of him after 3 years) and you say, “Hey Bob, I know it’s kind of late to be asking but I need some help. I need someone to come in tomorrow about 9am and clean out and organize warehouse number 3. It needs to be cleaned up so we can put a big shipment coming in on Monday. I’ll get Ted to help you. You should be done by 1pm. Can you do that for us?” Now, Bob who is normally pretty chipper says slowly, “Yeah, I think I can do that for you.” You say, “Thanks.” And pat him on the shoulder as you leave.
Well, the weekend comes and goes, and sure enough Monday rolls around and when you come to work the first thing you check is the warehouse to ensure it’s ready for the big shipment. Clean as a whistle – looks good. You go to your office and on the way you see Bob. “Bob, I saw the warehouse and it looks great. How did it go?” you ask. Bob responds with a respectful but curt, “Fine.” “Bob, you okay?” you ask. He responds, “Yeah, I’m fine” with a telling tone. Then you ask, “Bob, what is it that you’re not telling me?” He says, “Well, I guess you didn’t know, but I have an eleven year old daughter who has cystic fibrosis and on Saturday’s we bring her to the clinic at 11am so she can wear a chest vibrator that breaks up the mucus in her body so she can breathe better. That treatment takes care of her until Wednesday when we have to do the same thing again. She gets nervous and doesn’t like it, so both my wife and I go with her to calm and help her. Of course, I couldn’t be there last Saturday.”
So, how do you feel now? Like a big smart boss? A great and wonderful person? NO. You feel like garbage. You should have known about Bob and the medical situation he endures daily. Would you EVER have asked him to do something like that on short notice if you knew about his daughter’s condition and the regiment they have? Probably not. The argument I frequently hear is, “Well, Bob should have said something.” Maybe so, but a lot of people won’t because they look at it as not being a “team” player, or that you have asked them because you trust them, so they have to do it for you. They might not want to confront you “The Boss.” They might fear for their job. Who knows? The point is they don’t say anything.
Now, I’ll turn it around and ask you, “How come you didn’t know?”
Knowing your people is something that will take some time. It cannot be done over night, and it’s not easy because as any HR person will tell you, you can’t push your way into an employee’s private life. However, your employees can tell you whatever they want. The trick is to be there when they are willing to tell you. So, now you have to get involved with David Packard’s idea of “Management by walking around.” You need to get up from behind your desk and go out to actually be around and see your employees working. This doesn’t mean that you are out there telling jokes and slapping people on the back. You need to be getting and giving feedback on a regular basis. You need to lend your expertise when it’s asked for. By doing this, you get to know who your people are and what they are facing on a daily basis. You need to show your people that you care about what they do, regardless of what it is. It hurts when I hear people say, “Yeah, our boss has no idea what we do down here.” How sad and telling is that?! There is an old mid-western phrase that fits nicely here: “Nothing makes the crops grow better than the sound of the farmer’s footsteps.” Basically, when the boss is in their midst, employees have a tendency to do their work. What a concept. But there is much more.
You should know if someone is married or not; if they have a fiancé; do they have kids, (you don’t need to know their birthdays, but about where they are in school); does your employee like sports; past education and are they seeking more; and cultural background. The more you know, the better. You do not want to change them, you can’t change them, but you need to know what they hold dear. You will find out a great deal about your people by watching their habits, noticing the decisions they make, the company they keep, or their consistent energy level they have, but you have to be “out there” with your people to see all of this.
And when you are out there with your folks, here is what happens: yes, you are talking about business and how their work is going and how you see things coming together, but in every conversation, there is a break in the business part and some personal stuff slips into the conversation. Not contrived. Not forced. It comes in because there are no “deflectors” up on your side and no shields up on theirs. It’s just two people working together on something. That’s when the magic happens. That’s when you learn about them. That’s when you truly begin to “know” your people.