People will work much, much harder for their own reasons than they will ever work for your reasons. You, as a manager, have an obligation to find out exactly what those reasons are. And the very best way to do that is by leading with kindness.
The key to a mutually respectful relationship with your team members is simple empathy and kindness: genuine interest in each one of them as a human being, not just as an employee. As it happens, that interest is rare, but not all that difficult to establish. All you need to do is engage from time to time in an authentic one-on-one discussion that isn’t obviously focused on your motives – such as hitting team performance targets – and is focused in like a laser beam on the other person. During this conversation, which might unfold during a private lunch that you share with the team member who reports to you, you can ask about what’s going on in this person’s life outside of work. How the family is doing. What this person’s hobbies and interests are. What he or she is trying to accomplish in both the short and long terms.
This isn’t “small talk.” It’s not something for you to use as filler in between the “real” conversations you have with this person about work issue. It’s you showing authentic interest sufficient to create trust and connection within the relationship. It’s personal concern … which is the foundation of kindness.
Now, you might be tempted to think that the advice you’ve just read is simple common sense, and that all managers ought to have these kinds of one-on-one sessions with their team members on a regular basis. And you’d be right. The reality, though, is that most managers don’t have meaningful one-on-on exchanges about anything other than work issues with those who report to them. They lead with the to-do list. How do we know? We asked. Over a long period of years, during our speaking and training events, we’ve asked managers in a wide range of industries to raise their hands if they can identify even one important personal goal (as opposed to work-related or financial goal) from one employee who reports to them.
It’s rare that even a single hand goes up!
Guess what? If you don’t know anything about an employee’s most important personal goals (such as feeling financially secure enough to get married, or putting a child through college), then there’s no way you can expect to tie those personal goals to the performance targets that you want this person to hit for you. That means there’s no way you can expect the employee to commit, on a personal level, to attaining those performance targets. And that means there’s no way you can coach the person effectively, because the employee won’t be engaged enough to participate in the coaching discussion in any way that changes behavior patterns!
The only way to learn what really matters to your employees is to treat them with a level of respect, curiosity, discretion, and authentic, sustained interest that will get them to open up to you one-on-one about what really matters to them most when they are outside of the workplace. If you haven’t had that kind of conversation yet – it’s time to lead with kindness, instead of the to-do list!
Schedule a one-on-one session with each person who reports to you … and use that discussion begin creating a relationship that’s based on empathy and kindness – on your concern for them as a person, which must extend well beyond the daily concerns of the workplace.
By the way: If the employee’s first response to you suggesting this meeting is concern that he or she might be “in trouble” … that’s a sign that you definitely have not been leading with kindness up to this point, and that you haven’t yet established a mutually trusting, mutually respectful relationship!