“Patience is not the ability to wait but how you act while you’re waiting.” Joyce Meyer
I was speaking with a professional in a leadership position recently when this person said, “I don’t believe that email is a tool for communication, so I don’t answer emails. It’s easier to delete 200 emails than to respond to 50 of them.” This was shocking to hear because it showed me that this person proudly admits to ignoring client inquiries; it was a demonstration of just how ignorant a leader can be when they are out of touch with those they lead.
I am connected with a number of leaders in the public and private sector. As someone at the beginning of my career, it’s fascinating to watch those in high positions manage unique situations from the sidelines. Some actions are inspiring, while others make me question how I could have made the situation more positive if I was in their place. Would I have had the gumption to ask a few more questions before making a decision? If the onus of the decision was mine, would I have acted differently?
We posed a Coffee Shop HR World Café topic a few months back asking what entry-level folks can do to gain interviews. Essentially, what can you do at the beginning of your career to get your foot in the door? Looking at this question in another way, I’ve begun to ask myself what I have learned from the leaders around me, and how can I best hold onto those lessons for the future.
Seeing the struggles and successes of various leaders, these are the attributes I hope to embrace:
1. Listen and evaluate more than you speak.
Everyone has an anecdote about being in a meeting (often a lengthy meeting) and having zero engagement for the duration. The speaker is there to deliver a message rather than engage in a conversation, and that’s infuriating because it feels like a waste of time. When you engage in conversations with employees, hear what they have to tell you, evaluate their position and offer alternatives if they are seeking advice. Sometimes employees just need you to recognize their point of view.
2. Respecting staff means being able to communicate with them; know as many names and positions as you can so that you can respond thoughtfully.
I’ve always believed that the key to being a successful leader is being able to communicate. That statement has become ubiquitous in our world of text messaging, and other forms of photo messaging, but the same is true. Knowing the names and positions of your employees allows you to connect with them in a more thoughtful way because you can better anticipate how to deliver messages to them.
We all learn in different ways – some people need pictures, some prefer formal documents, while others require a conversation to gather their thoughts. Recognize that some people respond to information immediately; others need to contemplate what they’ve heard, process the information and then respond. Just because an employee who takes a lot of meeting notes doesn’t pipe up immediately after you’ve announced news to the group doesn’t mean that person is not engaged. The opposite may be true. Because that employee is engaged and has an opinion, he/she would prefer to choose the appropriate language to share with you later on.
3. Provide alternative solutions each time you want to oppose an idea; own up to your choice of words.
I will always be an agent for change as long as the change supports what’s best for the business, with minimal impact to staff. But it irritates me to no end when people respond with a resounding “no” without offering alternative solutions. By offering options, you demonstrate that you understand what management was attempting to improve, have a solid understanding of the business, and can be counted on to support the change in the most positive way.
If you can foresee pitfalls that others can’t, why wouldn’t you communicate that? While people are outraged and scared, be the source of information that they are seeking.
4. Embrace technology.
This may sound odd, but remember that leader I mentioned who does not believe that email is a useful communication tool? I understand this individual’s concerns with misunderstandings caused by tone, but in leadership roles, I believe you must possess a strong service orientation. If those around you feel comfortable communicating with you via email, be grateful that they are willing to connect in the first place, and respond using the medium they chose.
By receiving an email and saying “I do not believe the use of email is conducive to communication” you are showing those around you that you can only support them on your terms. Responding using the source that they provided is similar to shifting down to the height of a child when providing direction.
In the future, who knows what the equivalent of email will be. I’ve spoken with Gen Y leaders who outwardly say “email is useless, I use Google Docs to communicate with staff en masse, and it’s free.” So when I’m trying to connect with staff at different levels who communicate using a technology that you can’t see or touch, I hope that I have the gumption to embrace it, and learn to use it well.
5. Do not take criticism personally; be prepared to defend your work.
This will always be a challenge, and it should be. The day that you have zero emotional attachment to criticism is the day you completely disengage or suppress your emotion. But I think it is positive to control the emotions that you show to people. The most positive thing you can do is respectfully and intelligently defend your work when criticized. Take ownership and be accountable at all times.