Last week I talked about the importance of self-awareness as a leader, and how knowing both your strengths and your weaknesses can ultimately transform the way you lead. For this post, however, I’d like to shift the focus to your team. While you may have seen their resumes or understand their skills to the extent that they match the job description, would you say you know your team?
Innovative collaboration happens when teams feel secure enough to share their ideas. As leaders, we must establish trust with our staff to create that safe space, but it is not easily won simply because we sign their paychecks. Trust is developed over time through relationship. When we take the time to look past their work scope and learn about the things they value most, we’re able to build real connections with the people our organization relies on every day.
I know that your time is a scarce commodity, so encouraging you to intentionally shoot the breeze with an employee may seem preposterous. However, building connections doesn’t require an hour-long, philosophical discussion. It could be as simple as noticing a picture on their desk or asking about the music they’re listening to. These little sparks can ignite conversations that will not only give you a glimpse into what they value most, but will also provide topics to follow up on in the future (“didn’t your son have a baseball game last week?”). These snippets are the building blocks for establishing trust. As an added bonus, they also foster an environment where each individual feels seen and valued (hooray for belonging!).
Providing frequent feedback on work performance is another great way to connect with your team. By validating the importance of the work they do, they will feel empowered to do their job well and become more engaged in the common goal of your organization. By bolstering employee engagement you’ll create a more collaborative environment, a safe space for diversity of thought, and the means by which your team is unified towards a common goal.
Employee engagement not only impacts your workplace culture, but it’s also great for your organization’s bottom line. According to Forbes, “Those teams who score in the top 20% in engagement realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism, and 59% less turnover.” This means that, when employees are engaged, their job becomes less about punching a clock, and more about a passion and purpose to help the team reach its goals.
The bottom line? Seek out ways to pour into your team. Build relationships by finding common ground and providing feedback that validates what they’re doing and values who they are. Keep in mind, however, the importance of discernment when building these connections. As leaders, we must maintain a level of professionalism that allows us to make decisions devoid of emotion or clouded judgment. When talking to your staff, establish boundaries in your own mind (i.e. avoid office gossip as if it were the plague!), and ask thoughtful questions to redirect a conversation that’s seemingly going off the rails.
If striking up conversation isn’t one of your strengths, don’t let it deter you from trying. Many leaders are people-oriented and can relate to others easily, but for those who are more task-driven, conjuring up conversation may be awkward at first. Keep at it! There are only so many hours in the day, but your team is your most valuable asset. Be sure to invest wisely.