My inner hyper-achiever is a voice that pushes me to GET THINGS DONE. I monitor project plans and to-do lists every day to keep focusing on and progressing towards my goals. This is a common trait among Leaders; and while it sounds like the right inner message, it can alienate the Leader from Team members and Colleagues because while they focus on the goal, they can miss what is actually going on around them.
In a previous position as a Team Leader, I was consumed by my hyper-achiever saboteur. My blind spot was that I assumed everyone was focused on and progressing towards the same target I was aimed at! One day I realized that many of my Team had stopped following me, so I doubled down! I held more meetings to explain our purpose and direction. I kept closer tabs on deadlines I had imposed on Team members tasks and projects. I took over tasks that others were responsible for…all the while lamenting that the team members were not motivated, they were not keeping up to their responsibilities they were losing passion and willingness to work. I wondered if I had the right people. It felt as though the ship had multiple holes, water rushing in, and I couldn’t plug the holes fast enough.
Eventually and painfully, I came to acknowledge that I was the victim of my own determination to succeed and that I had lost connection with my Team. I had to admit that I was responsible for the low motivation, missed deadlines and poor results. I was making the workplace a discouraging and dismal place to be. I could not see it then, but the simple truth is that all I needed to do to turn things around was to LISTEN to my Team Members.
At the root of high employee engagement is the habit of Leaders to ask questions and seek understanding from their Team’s point of view. Leaders gain perspective by listening and watching, with a little distance, to see what the roadblocks are for people. In a Team where the Leader has a habit of telling, directing, demanding, pushing, you will find a Team that is languishing, underperforming, and discouraged. And if this continues, project after project, year after year, the employees who stay, reach the point where they feel they earn their pay simply by putting up with the chaos and negativity and micro managing. Leadership of this kind contributes to the attitudes and behaviour of entitlement of those who stay.
Had I read all the articles that I am referencing below at the time in my career that I described above, I would feel even more discouraged and unclear about what I needed to do to shift the attitude of grudgingly compliant workers. The programs, systems, the costs in time and money are all long-game strategies. All useful yes, but I feel that they miss the heart of the matter.
What I learned from my experience and by listening to successful Leaders who fuel themselves with positive energy and empathy, is to use a pull method to draw people to a mutually desired outcome rather than push them towards a distant and vague goal. As I reflected, I realized that I, the Leader, needed to put a damper on my own striving and fear of failure. Once I began to do this, I invited Team Members to reach just a little bit further, 10% more than they were currently doing, to a goal they believed in and believed they could reach. I have boiled this experience down to three steps:
- Check in with yourself first! Name what is driving you. Make sure the goal is truly a Team goal, embraced by all members.
- Check in with each Team member, frequently and informally. Ask questions like: What work/task do you do in a day that you love doing? What part of your role makes you feel like a strong contributor? When you wake up in the morning, what thoughts about work get you going, and pleased to be coming to work?
- At Team meetings listen carefully and listen to truly understand and not to respond or react. Ask questions, listen more, and tell less. Ask questions like: How you (the collective) feel about our progress? If we were to be really pleased with the work, we accomplish in 6 or 12 months from now, what would we report then? What else could we do in the short term to feel more energized and productive?
Repeat steps 1,2,3 over and over again.
Leading ourselves and others is a full-time endeavour. The most important awareness to have is in how we are talk to ourselves first. A positive mindset with thoughts that: focus on what is going well; what opportunities can surface when things are not going well; and what else can be better makes a far more positive impact on others when we speak. We must lead ourselves first before we can lead others. The measure of influence we have on the motivation of Team members will match the level of our own motivation.
We cannot motivate others, we can only influence. Leadership is about influence.
Four Articles of current thinking and research based Sources:
Building an Employee Listening Strategy: What It Is and Why It Matters
Posted: April 15, 2021 – Anne Maltese
2 pg article describes what an employee listening strategy is and why it is important.
WELL-BEING & MORALE
The Future of Work is Employee Well-Being
Posted: August 4, 2021 – Jeanne Meister – FORBES