Your employees need you. But not in the way you think.
Leadership is no longer about being the center of decision-making, expertise, and problem solving. Instead, today’s leaders work in such complex, variable environments that they simply can’t be as central as they have in the past. If they take on this role, they risk becoming bottlenecks and getting in the way of progress. Today’s leaders need to do things differently.
In the last post, I reviewed the leadership behaviors of clarify and connect. This post focuses on another important behavior that tops employees’ wishlists: caretaking.
Caretaking isn’t mothering or patronizing. Instead, think about the caretaking work a gardener does. She prunes weeds that are choking plant growth, protects them from frosts, and fertilizes them when needed. That’s the kind of caretaking leaders need to do. What how od you serve as a caretaker in an organization?
Caretaking – making sure that groups are freed from constraints that get in the way of doing work well.
Buffering the Group from Harm
Jenna leads a multi-national PR team. She’s had three bosses over the last year, but it’s barely impacted the team. She’s kept the group focus clear, maintained priorities, and ran interference so team members wouldn’t get caught between the turf battles that arose between Jenna’s bosses and their peers.
What Jenna does represents a great deal of what teams need from their leaders. Assuming that you have competent, motivated people, one of their biggest needs is someone who clears away the barriers, removes obstacles, and maintains focus. They need you to break down the barriers so they can do their work.
Here are three ways you can help buffer your team from harm:
- Protect the team from outside threats or losses
- Remove barriers and obstacles that get in the way of the collective goal
- Examine how staff departures or reassignments affect the team and fill resulting gaps
Ensuring People Have What They Need
The next important function that leaders can play for their teams is ensuring that people have what they need.
Carl led a team in a bio pharma manufacturing environment. He noticed that, while his people did excellent work, they were rarely recognized. He started watching interactions between team members and organization leaders. He noticed that team members consistently failed to articulate the value of their work in terms the leaders could understand. Instead, they usually lapsed into tech-speak, which left the leaders cold. Carl began working with team members to help them prep their messages before meeting with leaders, which greatly improved leaders’ impressions of the group.
Leaders need to be aware of what people need. They may not know how to articulate what they need—how do they know what they don’t know?—so you have to articulate it for them. Here are four ways you can help ensure your people have what they need:
- Find resources (tools, people, ideas, etc.) to support the network
- Ask people periodically: “Do you have what you need to do your job?”
- Ask people periodically: “What is getting in the way of you doing your job?”
- Look for where there is isolation in the team and help develop strategies to alleviate isolation.
Helping People Connect in Smart Ways
The third thing your employees need is help connecting in smart ways so they can access information and expertise when they need it.
Shawn, HR director at a pharmaceutical company, knew that staff members were incredibly smart and accomplished. He also knew that they were terrible at planning and facilitating meetings. The result was that people uniformly hated meetings and complained about how much time was wasted in meetings. Shawn implemented across-the-board meeting planning and facilitation skills training. Not only that, he repeated the training quarterly and encouraged people to attend as many times as they wanted. In addition, he set an expectation that people would attend short refresher courses every year. As a result, meeting quality increased, the number of meetings decreased, and satisfaction with meetings improved.
Shawn saw that people weren’t connecting in smart ways so he did something about it. Your job is to help make sure that people can share their expertise and ideas effectively. Here are four ways you can help your team connect:
- Use communication systems to link network members together
- Create online environments that encourage person-to-person relationship building across boundaries
- Set up training on how to run meetings in which people can share information and ideas effectively
- Look for where there is energy in the team and help develop strategies to share energy
How well do you serve as a caretaker for your team? Download Taking Care of Your Team to assess your leadership practices.