As Subtle As A Brick

Features - Professional Development

When it comes to managing your team, don’t ignore the obvious. Learn how to open your ears and become a tuned-in leader.

September 21, 2022

© welcomeinside | AdobeStock

By Dr. Alan Zimmerman

In a survey of 5000 managers across the country from many different industries, I asked them to rank 10 employee-engagement factors from one to 10, one being the item employees most needed. I then asked their 50,000 employees to make the same ranking.

Sadly enough, the employees ranked “full appreciation for work done” as the No. 1 most important thing they wanted from their managers. But their managers ranked that same item as No. 8, saying it was one of the least important things they should be doing.

In fact, many employees perceive talking to their bosses or managers is akin to interacting with a brick wall.

So how do you become a more tuned-in leader? Should people throw a brick at you to get your attention? Do your employees, your coworkers, your customers, or even your spouse or kids feel this way about you? Or, do they feel like you’re truly tuned in to and care about those needs? Start with the following tips to be a more tuned-in leader or individual.

Build Relationships

I know you’re busy. But so is everybody else. That makes your occasional walking about, connecting with people even more valuable.

However, when you take the time to interact with people at work, don’t make them feel like you’re wasting their time by chit-chatting about something as mundane as the weather or as frustrating as the gas prices. They already know about that. And they will feel like you’re wasting their time when they have other things they must do.

Remember you’re taking time to build relationships with these people. And you do that when you do one of two things:

  • Show personal interest, or
  • Provide value.

To show personal interest, ask questions that indicate you’d like to know them a little better. Or you’d like to learn something from them, such as their opinion on the best way to handle a situation. Those approaches make them feel important and make you look tuned-in.

To provide value, before you approach someone, think of what value you might have to give them. Perhaps you’re aware of some food they like, and you know about a great restaurant that provides that food. Or maybe you picked up some notes at a conference and you know they would find one or two of the points particularly interesting. When you offer value that applies to a particular individual, you’re sending the message that “You’re so important that I’ve taken the time to tune into you and what would be important to you. I don’t need a brick to bring that to my attention.”

Focus More On “We” Than “Me”

Unfortunately, human nature tends to be selfish. Most of us are more concerned with our hangnail than the fact that thousands of people just died in an earthquake somewhere in the world. It’s natural but it’s no effective in human relations. And yet this focus on me, me, me is quite common.

I see it at the universities when the graduate students do all the research for a certain professor and then he publishes his articles and books under his name … as though he did it all by himself and deserves all the credit. Shame on him.

You see it when a team develops a new product that becomes a financial success, but you only see the CEO on TV talking about her vision and how her vision allowed this breakthrough. Shame on her.

But there are some wonderful tuned-in leaders out there as well. As a professional speaker, I get to meet and work with lots of them. One leader who I hold in high regard is Jill Blashack-Strahan, President and CEO of Tastefully Simple and recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

In her acceptance speech, she said she was overcome with humility and gratitude. “Any recognition we’ve received, truly does not belong to me. It belongs to all the people who are ambassadors for Tastefully Simple every day. I didn’t build this company.”

Jill went on to say, “I’m not the smiling face representing Tastefully Simple as our Ambassador of First Impressions in our headquarters’ lobby. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple through the excellent picking, packing, and shipping of our products. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple in our contract negotiations or in the quality of our facility or mailings. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple in the prompt attention to our accounts payable or in the high-pressure inventory management function.”

Talk about a tuned-in leader. Jill continued, “I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple in our sales team by addressing our consultants’ day-to-day issues and challenges. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple in team relations when they’re hiring or dealing with sensitive issues. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple during intense special projects or impromptu, immediate marketing and public relations needs. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple through superb training, graphic design and communication pieces and product development.”

Jill finished, “I didn’t do it. We did it.”

Get The Facts

You’re not tuned if you’re a “reactor” instead of a “responder.” And so, for any issue that comes before you, study the issue carefully and fully ... first. Tap into the formal and informal networks that will give you up-to-date information. Try to understand your ever-changing physical, political, relational, technological, and/or financial environments at work.

Help Others To Stay In Tune

Soon you’ll see millions of yard signs advocating candidates for various offices. Unfortunately, many people will be so frustrated by the campaigning process that they’ll end up saying something stupid like, “It doesn’t matter who you vote for; they’re all the same.” Still others will be so confused by all the claims, attacks, and counterattacks that they’ll end up wondering, “How can I really know which one will make the best leader?”

Let me remove some of your frustration and confusion. I’ve addressed leadership for years, and it doesn’t matter if you’re leading a country, a company, a department, a team, or even a family … leadership has nothing to do with title or position. You could be the president of a country or the GM of a Fortune 500 company and NOT be a leader.

In truth, leadership has everything to do with results. As Peter Drucker put it: “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.”

There’s an important lesson in Drucker’s comment. You’ve must keep people tuned in to the results you’re bringing about, or they might not see them. And if they don’t see the results, they’ll probably feel disgruntled.

Indeed, my research indicates employees know and understand less than 25% of results they are helping to bring about. If you’re going to be an effective leader, you’ve must keep people tuned in.

Tune in to the people around you. Don’t wait for a brick, such as your employees leaving you, before you figure this out. Don’t wait for a brick, such as a divorce, before you wake up and learn to spend quality time on your relationship. Tune in now.

A frequent Snow Magazine contributor, Dr. Alan Zimmerman is a business coach who works with companies to focus on transforming the people side of business.