Esteemed organizational leaders, we are gathered here today to think about the power of love. Yes, my brethren, that’s right: the undeniable, indisputable, amazing power of absolute love! We should treat others as we would be done unto; we should lend a hand and do what’s right.
Okay, at this point you’re probably thinking that I have lost my mind, and you can’t believe that I’m mentioning the word “love” in a column about leadership. Why? Lately, in almost every leadership program I’ve conducted, I’ve noticed a core theme, a central element, or thread that is running throughout almost every discussion that I’m having with people in the leadership role. It is simply this: people do not feel appreciated by their leaders.
They feel a bit used. They have worked hard during the economic doldrums of the last several years without a raise. The work keeps coming, but as for signs of appreciation, where are they? I would bet there are many people on your team right now who feel underappreciated.
I would like to give you some tools, tips, and ideas for helping people feel more appreciated and, in a manner of speaking, more loved.
Talk to them
Oh, sure, I know you talk to them now during meetings, when you’re reviewing a project, and when you’re doing your annual performance reviews. I’m saying something different.
Talk to them for no reason. Stop by their offices to say hello and see how things are going. Take them out to lunch to see what’s going on in their lives professionally. As leaders, we often think these things do not matter. The reality is that the small things mean a lot and, unfortunately, are often the most overlooked because everyone gets so busy.
One of the essential concepts of effective leadership is to provide feedback. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Wow! That’s an amazing insight I’ve never heard before!” Okay, but stay with me.
Many leaders provide feedback, but only negative feedback. Rarely do they provide any that is positive. I once reported to a manager who was the strong, silent type. One day I sat down to meet with him and asked a simple question: “How am I doing?” His response was, “What do you mean by that?”
To this, I replied, “I just would like to know how I’m doing and where I stand. Frankly, I hope that you’re not offended by what I’m about to say, but I don’t think I get enough feedback.”
He was a bit surprised and said that I did get feedback when he did my review, and besides, if I “screwed up,” he would let me know. I then explained that I needed positive as well as corrective feedback. He looked me straight in the eye and said (and I am not making this up; it’s too absurd to make up), “I’m not going to compliment you for something we pay you to do.”
In leadership classes during which I tell this story, many in the room get uncomfortable and admit they are not likely to give positive feedback. When people do a good job, make it a point to tell them you appreciated their effort. Everyone needs an “’atta-boy” or an “’atta-girl” every now and then.
Get their feedback
I recently worked with clients in Atlanta, and they told me that their CEO often ate lunch in the lunchroom with front-line employees and would sit at different tables each day to talk to them. More important than just talking to them, he was constantly asking them for their advice.
People feel appreciated when their ideas are valued and entertained. Don’t always be the first one to respond to an issue; ask for other people’s opinions. Just keep your mouth shut and for once listen. (I promise your tongue will not beat your brain to death if your mouth is closed.) Be the last one to respond.
In order for people to feel appreciated, they need to be rewarded in some way. I’m not, by the way, talking about monetary rewards. Most research in the field of motivation indicates that monetary rewards are short-lived and have very little impact on overall feelings of appreciation.
What is more important is to find out what kinds of reward each person would appreciate. Some might value you taking them to lunch, sending them a hand-written thank-you card, or leaving them a voicemail from the road late at night that will be on their phone when they come to work the next morning telling them how much you appreciate them.
People are not identical widgets; they are complex creatures, and you have to learn what they like and dislike. Tailor the rewards to them individually. One size does not fit all.
I know that in a time-starved world, one of the key challenges as a leader is finding enough time to do everything you need to do in the day. If you have salespeople, go out in the field and make calls with them for a few hours. If you have technicians, ride with them out of the field in their trucks to see what they’re doing.
By the way, this is not checking up on them. It’s just a different way of spending time with people individually to learn more about them, learn more about what they do, and figure out different ways you can help them.
Here is one thing I can guarantee you that all the research indicates: people who feel loved are more productive, are great representatives of your company, and are loyal to the company and to you. So start spreading the love.