Leadership: Be the leader people love to work with

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Meet Tim Williams

It’s the last day of work before the new year holidays. In the middle of the day, you receive an email from your manager and the subject line reads “Thanks, I noticed.” What would be your first reaction? Astonishment, thrill, wonder or suspicion?

Meet Tim Williams, a sergeant with the sheriff’s office (a police officer in-charge of the entire shift) who did something similar. He was recently promoted to this position and as part of the process was asked to read ‘The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership’. He read the book at least thrice before he decided to make two changes to his leadership approach.

First, he started spending more time with his deputies (managers below his rank). He would visit different jails and spend nights talking and laughing with his deputies. He would listen to them talk about their families and sometimes even their complaints. This helped him connect with them. Second, he would leave personal notes of appreciation at work whenever it was due. He wanted to let them know that he cares and notices.

‘Thanks, I noticed’ email

At the end of the year, he went an extra mile and wrote personal emails to each of his team members. Guess what the ‘subject like’ read. You got it, “Thanks, I noticed.” This is how the email was framed:

As we come to the end of the year, I wanted to take a moment and reflect on the things that all of you have done individually to make my life easier as a supervisor. Because of the competitive nature of this profession we share, I want all of you to collectively know what you have done for each other. As this year has passed, in some way each of you has contributed to the success that we all share.

So for all the little things that you may have thought went unnoticed, please let me say, Thank you, I noticed.

Micheal B., for giving up your two planned holidays so that we would have enough people to cover the shift, for volunteering for the paint details on your days off, for the math project, for taking on the Academy Instructor challenge, Thank you, I noticed.

Bruce B., for……….

©️John Maxwell’s “The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth”

None of the managers I reported to ever did this and I can’t help imagine how it would have made me feel if one of them had written something like this to me at the end of the year. Noticing each of those times when I went beyond the call of duty, when I produced above-average quality of work, when I sacrificed my time for the greater good of the team, when I let my health deteriorate to get the project completed before deadline, when I doubled my efforts to cover someone else’s deficiency. With a manager who notices and genuinely appreciates, I would do all of the above again without any remorse or contempt.

Three simple, practical and powerful ways to inspire and motivate your team

Something Tim noticed was that the sick-time usage dropped drastically during his shift, which doesn’t come as a surprise to me. He was able to motivate his team by letting them know he cares. Here are three simple, practical and powerful ways to inspire and motivate your team:

1. Listen with honest curiosity and notice the subtle cues.

While conversing, give people your full attention, like you would if the lottery winning numbers are being announced, and observe the whole person, not only their words. For example, your report has recently come back from their maternity leave and shares concerns about raising a kid while working full-time. Pay close attention and notice at what point they get deeply emotional. Usually when we share something we deeply care about, there is a clear change in our facial expression, body language, voice tone, eye movement and the overall energy.

2. Empathise and tell them what they need, not what they want.

Chris Voss in his best-seller ‘Never Split the Difference’ calls this ‘tactical empathy’, where you communicate back to someone that you have understood their perspective and emotions. It doesn’t necessarily mean you agree or feel the same way. Using the same example; the report who has just returned from maternity leave. The report tells you, ‘I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. I don’t know how I’m gonna manage work and home.

I’m afraid the quality of my work might deteriorate while at the same time I fear missing out on important events in my child’s life.” How would you respond to this in a way that shows tactical empathy? Here’s an example, “(name of the report), it seems like you really care about delivering high-quality work while simultaneously being part of _____ (kid’s name) special moments.” The ‘it seems like’ allows you flexibility to rephrase just in case the report feels you have misunderstood them. Here are a couple of other phrases that Voss recommends to safely vocalise another person’s perspective, ‘It sounds like… / It looks like…’.

3. Show that you notice and appreciate.

At the end of the week or month, you notice that the same report has been completing all their tasks on time and there are no complaints about the quality of their delivery. This will be a perfect opportunity for you to walk up to the report or send a mail or message, and express your genuine appreciation. This will not only relieve them of all their previous fears, but also motivate them to continue doing what they are doing. Who knows, they might go a step further in commitment, as they now know you care for them and the work they do.

My commitment

Although I don’t have a team at this point in time, I was so impressed by the idea that I have decided to start practicing this with my wife. I’m going to take note of each of those times when she does something out of the ordinary and write a Tim-inspired ‘thank you’ card at the end of the year. Coincidentally, our anniversary and her birthday fall in December. Hope my wife doesn’t read this. 😅

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