If Employees Aren’t Listening, Reflect on Leadership

Worried that people who should be listening to me, aren’t listening to me. Think about my employees, and ask myself, “If they’re not going to listen to their boss, who are they going to listen to?” How can I keep from getting pushed out of the way?

Thoughts of the Day: Take a look around you. Make time to think about what you want, and whether the habits of communicating are getting you there. Figure out how you can get better at communicating. Lower your perception of the consequences if things go wrong. Think before you speak. Plant seeds.

Is it really just you who’s being ignored, or are others having the same problem? Is it all employees, or just some? Is it the same employee over and over, or different employees at different times? Is it all the time, or just some of the time?

Figure out the conditions under which you observe that you aren’t being heard. Compare that to your observations about what others experience under similar conditions. Do a reality check on who, when, what, and how people go their own way without dialing in to you.

Then ask some questions. Are they attempting to spread their wings, trying to fly solo with new skills they’ve acquired? Are they repeating a habitual way of behaving with you – as in, they always dial you out? Or is it somewhere in between?

Now do a reality check. What happens if specific people do or don’t listen to you? Do they get better results with, or without your input? Or do they come out about the same either way? Do they get enough value from your input that they can achieve higher level outcomes? Are you making requests that make their life easier or harder? Try looking at it from the receiver’s viewpoint.

Time for a bit of self-reflection. How do you come across as a leader? Are you positively motivated, and are you positively motivating the people around you? Can you inspire confidence?

Think about this. If you’re not ready to empower yourself to achieve success, how will you impart that to others? On the other hand, if you’re leading and no one is following, why is the whole group following a different path? What is it about how you’re coming across?

Can you take as good as you dish it out? If someone isn’t listening to you, ask them why. But be prepared to hear some things that might make you uncomfortable. Listen without defense in order to learn.

What in your style of presentation is irritating people or pushing them away. It often comes down to what you say and how you say it. Is it all about getting what you want? What gets in the way of perceiving or responding to what the person across from you needs?

Negative approaches tend to generate negative responses, and vice versa for positive ones. Keep doom and gloom to a minimum – it’s neither inspiring nor motivating. Instead, search for purpose. Put people on a mission.

Give people a visual of how things might turn out. Make sure it’s one that they’d actually want to achieve. Make it something worth having, something worth reaching for, from theirs, not your, point of view. To do that, you’re actually going to have to invest some time figuring out where the other person is coming from.

Remind yourself that it takes a village to build well rounded solutions. Plant seeds. Ask for small changes. Encourage behaviors you want to see continue by saying, “thank you, I appreciate that.” Talk honestly about problems, but also build people up by showing them how changes they are making lead to a better world. Take time out to celebrate wins – more than the time spent moaning over losses – a lot more.

Looking for a good book? Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, by Simon Sinek.


Building Tomorrow’s Leadership Team

We’re not going to drive this company forward if we don’t have a management team that understands and can drive performance. My employees look to me for direction, wait for me to make a decision. It can’t all sit on my shoulders anymore. I know I’m probably at fault, with the way I manage and have trained my people. What do I do to turn this around?

Thoughts of the Day: A self-reliant management team is essential for a thriving, growing company. Think about each area of the business and who can step forward. Define skills needed to get to the next level. Make contracts with employees about what they willing to do to become leaders. Set team goals and meet regularly to practice working as a group to accomplish the company’s mission.

The company can’t rest on one or two peoples’ shoulders and be successful long term. Responsibilities need to be divided up. People need to train their backups who can be ready to step in, in case something happens to the primary person in charge. Imagine the company in units of no more than 6-8 people, each unit reporting to a manager, supervisor or team leader.

Go through a checklist of each area of the business: finance, sales, marketing, operations, IT, human resources. Who is in charge? For areas that are handled by outside firms, who do those firms report to? Who makes plans for each area of the business, and considers themselves accountable for the outcomes?

Building teams to share the management load takes a lot of weight off of the owners’ shoulders. It also tends to result in happier employees who feel more engaged in taking the company forward. It also makes it easier to identify people who may no longer be a fit, or who may not be able to keep up.

Don’t confuse money with responsibility initiative. Don’t feel that you have to offer more money right off the bat to get people to step up. If funds are tight, offer people a chance to learn more, to grow their influence in the firm, and make an agreement that they’ll share in the profits when plans come to fruition.

Review each manager candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Go through a review discussion, asking each manager to honestly assess his or her ability to play a leadership role, and his or her skill at taking the company forward in his or her area of responsibility.

Ask each manager candidate to step up to the challenge, and respect people’s right to decline. But don’t stop there. If the person you selected doesn’t want to step up, find someone else. Look inside the company first, and build a training program to get your candidate up to speed. If necessary, search outside the company. Make a decision as to how you will realign jobs and reduce existing staff to stay within budget as you move people around.

For each manager you’ve selected to join the management team, make a contract. Spell out expectations for increasing job skill and leadership ability. Agree on each person’s responsibility for attending classes. Monitor individual progress monthly, with specific results that each person agrees to work towards producing. Make sure each person has signed a specific growth plan that has specific dates of when they will accomplish each part of the plan. Review each person’s plan at least quarterly.

Work with your management team to brainstorm company-wide goals. Lay out non-negotiable parameters, such as 10-15% growth in revenue, increase in both gross and net profit, increased reserve funds to match the company’s increased spending obligations. Ask the group to turn these parameters into goals for the company overall as well as for their specific departments. Meet weekly to give each department an opportunity to talk about what they’ve accomplished, what’s next, and to get feedback and help from the group.

It will take practice for you, as owner, to step back and give your people room to lead. Take time off regularly to get out of the way and see how the group does without you. Resist the temptation to mandate. Work on building your listening and coaching skills.

Looking for a good book? Team Building: How to Build & Manage Teams That Will Get Things Done, by William Wyatt.

Building Leadership Talent for the Future

We need to start building our next generation. It can’t be just me and a couple of other older, experienced people who are running this company. But many of our future leaders haven’t had any leadership training – something we should be thinking about. Any suggestions?

Thoughts of the Day: Leadership is a complex topic. Expose people early and often to the training they’ll need to become successful leaders. Use breakdowns as growth opportunities, encouraging rather than discouraging potential leaders.

Many people say they’d know leadership when they see it. Consider the following factors:

  • Problem solving learner, seeks out innovation, strives to excel
  • Enthusiastically initiates, using common sense and flexibility
  • Uses goals, objectives, plans as tools to move the organization forward
  • Shares information and power, delegates effectively
  • Gets results, demonstrating integrity and a high ethical standard
  • Motivates and develops people, able to critique in a positive way
  • Inspires people to reach deep, accomplish more than they thought possible
  • Makes decisions, takes action, is accountable and responsible, “owns up”
  • Resolves conflicts and builds cohesive teams, knows everyone matters
  • Organizes, fixes breakdowns, looks to make improvements
  • Encourages people around them to shine, shares credit
  • Knows their actions are watched, leads by example, professional
  • Maintains a realistic, positive attitude
  • Active, accurate communicator
  • Self-aware, will stand alone, perseveres, knows when to make a change
  • Accurately assess personal weaknesses, seek out solutions and advisers

Think about the people you’ve been around. Who do you know, people you would consider to have been great leaders? What attributes did they demonstrate? Add to the list above. Create your own leadership attributes list.

Periodically assess every employee. Have a scorecard that allows you to look at how they present a variety of attributes. Mark off progress as you see individuals demonstrating and building specific leadership skills.

Ask the senior people in the organization to pick their top 3 back up candidates. Assess those candidates based on leadership skills as well as task / job oriented skills. Figure what it will take to prepare those candidates to move up. Think about the challenges tied to both job skill and leadership skill development. Decide how far you are willing to go with investing in specific individuals.

Look further down into the organization. Are there individuals who already demonstrate leadership skills, even though they’re just getting started in lower level jobs? Assign them to mentors who can encourage them to stick with the company as they grow to a level where they can have a greater impact. Hold managers accountable for identifying and developing leaders.

Build a leadership training program. Ask candidates to attend specific classes. If you have a lot of people to train, ask an outside organization to develop a custom program for your company. Tap into resources at local colleges. Ask the local community college if they have funds to build something specific.

Build your own leadership skills. Plan out what the organization will look like in 5 to 10 years, at 2-3 times its current size. Set goals for identifying internal candidates to fill leadership positions. Shift recruiting emphasis from searches for skills to include searches for leadership talent. Make sure the people in the organization are focused on a common mission.

When people in the organization make mistakes, treat them as learning opportunities. Keep in mind that when things go wrong, people get scared and need to know they are going to be okay. Ask people to think about how to solve the problems they’ve created. Talk through the options. Then ask them to get going and fill you in on results. Encourage collaboration and information flow, so that people are fully aware, working together, helping each other to succeed.

Looking for a good book? Building Leaders: How Successful Companies Develop the Next Generation, by Jay A. Conger and Beth Benjamin.