“The employer generally gets the employee he deserves.”
I was immediately blown away both by the simplicity of this quote and by its profound truth. For anyone that has lead a team before, I’m sure we’ve all struggled with an employee (or several). What is amazing about this thought is that it puts most (if not all) of the accountability on us, the leaders.
As I started dissecting this idea I really tried to consider it from both angles – the employee and the employer. What things have my bosses done in the past that have resulted in my commitment rather than my compliance?
Don’t Ask The Team To Do Something You Would Not Do
I was 15 when I learned this lesson. I worked at a summer camp for my first job where I did a mixture of lifeguarding, manual labor, custodial work and cooking. We did it all. During my first summer the camp had hired a new administrator. He was a bit intimidating to say the least. During our lunch after the first full week of camp was over, he addressed the team and said we need to and pick up trash across the campus. I didn’t think much of it, other than it was hot as hell outside (East Texas summers are quite the challenge) and I knew it would take a while because that group of campers were not exactly tidy. Fifteen minutes into our assignment, I see my boss coming down the hill to join the group. For the next three hours we walked the grounds as a team with him doing the exact same work he expected us to do.
That was 17 years ago and to this day that story lives in my memory. It’s a behavior I’ve tried to replicate year after year. When I was in charge of logistics for a company a few years back, I asked the team members unloading freight to step aside and I helped lift every box out of a 55 foot trailer and push it down a conveyor belt to be distributed to the shelves around the store. I worked as fast and efficiently as I could and prayed the majority of the team witnessed my effort. They did and the payback was exponential. I did literally the hardest task asked of a big box retail employee (multiple times throughout my tenure actually) and the team worked all the harder for me because of it.
Always Be Direct, Don’t Sugarcoat & and Never Wait to Deliver Your Message
I am from the South, and if there is one thing we LOVE to do it is sugarcoat difficult messages. I struggled with appropriately formulating messages to filter down to my team or to individuals. I was always afraid that I would hurt someone’s feelings or they couldn’t take the feedback.
What I’ve discovered (and what has made me considerably more successful in my opinion) is being open and respectfully honest with someone is the cornerstone to building an effective team. Everyone, I mean everyone, just wants the truth and to know where they stand with their employer. As someone who writes annual reviews every year, there is NOTHING worse than that feeling when you sit in feedback for 12 months having not delivered it in a timely and direct manner. Time after time individuals on my team have thanked me after the fact for simply providing clear and simple feedback to improve their performance and their impact on the team.
Always Recognize and Reinforce Positive Behavior
Most people at work know me as a positive and outgoing individual. Having said that, recognition is not something that comes naturally to me. I wholeheartedly believe that we are paid to do the job for which we signed up. However, in the age of everyone receiving a participation ribbon, this mentality does not really fly.
The question then became how do I make my recognition genuine? Every leader (if he or she hopes to be effective) is driving some type of initiative with their team. At one point our team was struggling to create positive experiences for our customers. After level setting on expectations for those on my team having trouble, I doubled down recognizing them for every positive response they received.
Focus your recognition on what you’re talking about. It feels natural and will only perpetuate the behaviors you’re seeking to drive. Your team will also not question your motives because it’s simply the desired result of your direction.
This is a personal tip that admittedly does not and will not come naturally to every one – nor should it. Enthusiasm is a relative scale for everyone’s personality type.
If you feel your team lacks engagement or motivation in their job, try finding your enthusiasm and begin experimenting with it. If it’s a new approach to leadership, just remember to tread softly and ease your team into behaviors. The last thing you want to do is appear to be as if you are not being genuine.
I’ve built my brand of leadership based on this principle. I do everything I can to balance accountability and driving results with spreading enthusiasm and laughter with my team. While I’m not perfect in behaving this way 100% of the time, I feel the response from my team both non-verbally and through recognition. My team affirms my behavior all the time which is why I share it with you today.
No matter what your chosen approach or response to the idea of you deserving the team you have is, I challenge you to begin using it as a filter in your leadership. Ultimately it is a way to rethink the accountability of your leadership. While it might be uncomfortable, looking at your reflection in the mirror that is your team might solve more problems than you might expect.