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Leadership Development

What Your Employees Won’t Tell You (and Why)


3 Things Your Employees Wish You Would Do

I conducted a workshop last week for a group of new managers. It was a group of about 25 people from different organizations. As I was talking to the participants over breakfast, I learned that a lot of them had recently been promoted in the organization or given more responsibility.

Their company sent them to the training to learn some management fundamentals. 

So these new managers were in the right place, but there was one message I kept repeating over the two-day training that continued to cause furrowed brows and shifting in seats: I continued to emphasize that having a relationship with your team members is the MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR to being an effective manager. 

This makes managers squirm. If a person is a new manager who has recently been promoted to manage their former peers, they are already friends, but they are looking to me to tell them to stop being friends and to focus on being a stern manager. If they have any HR background, they are queasy when they hear the words “relationship” and “friendship,” because they know the shadow side of HR means that you could someday have to write up or terminate your friend (and friendship).

If they are young managers, this seems quite natural, but they are still skeptical that they can have a good relationship with an employee and maintain a professional relationship. Many of us have been exposed to the command-and-control work style that perpetuates the view that employees are producers, not people. Command-and-control is fading fast; it’s time to see your employees as the whole human that they are. 

So what do employees need from you, their manager, to feel like you understand them and have a healthy relationship? 

  1. Commit to frequent communication.
    This can be in the form of one-on-one (1:1) meetings or informal check-ins. Ideally, you will connect with your employees daily, via any form of communication (face-to-face, phone, electronic). The more exposure points they have to you, the more connected they feel to you and can observe your patterns of behavior, which builds trust. 
  2. Get to know them personally.
    The lines are blurred every day between your work hours and life hours. Let’s face it, the same goes for work relationships. There are times when you’ll read an employee’s body language or facial expressions and know something is wrong. Why not ask them how they are doing? Invite the conversation to help them clear their head and express what’s going on, even if it has nothing to do with work. Your willingness to listen and show compassion is part of your job as a manager. Your team members have full lives that they can’t take off like a coat when they walk into the office. Let them express themselves. This is not only for tough times—it’s important that you know their dreams and help them work toward achieving them. 
  3. Let them use their strengths.
    Not only is it important to spend time talking to your employees, it’s also important to observe your employees. What appears to give them energy when they do it? What comes easy to them? When are they in “flow”? Yes, you can ask your team members what they like to do and what they’re good at, but oftentimes humans have blind spots about their own capabilities. Spend some time noticing and asking other colleagues to help uncover any unique talents and strengths that can fulfill your employee and get great results for the team. When you see something they don’t see, employees are flattered that you took the time to notice and encourage them to share. 

How can you start connecting?

We recommend you pick a space and time that is comfortable for you, so you can be at ease with your team members. This can be an off-site coffee break, a walk around the block or office, a quick pop-in, or a meeting invite. The managers I talk to notice that the more informal the conversation seems, the more natural it feels. So think of how you would approach a friend that you wanted to connect with. Draw from your natural language and style; don’t feel under any pressure to put on the mental business suit or the manager hat while connecting.

Let the conversation flow, and see how much you can discover. 

Photo by William Warby // cc by: 2.0 //

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Lauren Parkhill

Lauren Parkhill leads the marketing team in creating creative content that helps organizations develop their leaders and teams.