One of the hardest skills to self assess is our own leadership effectiveness. The challenge we face is that when our team misses their goals, it is hard to uncover the real reasons WHY.
How much of this miss was based on my leadership, coaching and communication? Or are members of the team disengaged and disinterested? Was the goal realistic? Or did the circumstances make the goal impossible to achieve? What exactly was the reason for the miss?
You have probably found your leadership role incredibly difficult for the last 18 months. At least that is what I hear on a daily basis from the leaders that we coach. Not only is it hard to attract, retain and motivate team members in the current environment – we also are dealing with constant uncertainty.
Times of crisis and uncertainty test our ability to lead unlike any other. And I cannot remember a time when the future (both immediate and short term) is more uncertain. Let’s be honest: it’s pretty hard to communicate with confidence when it feels like everything around you is constantly in a state of change.
Leadership could be compared to going on a journey. As with any journey, in order to be successful you need to know where you are, you need to know your destination, and you need to have a plan. Even in the best of times we may need to adjust our plan. In times of crisis and uncertainty it may feel like our plans are constantly changing. And if it feels like that for us, it probably feels even more confusing for those we are seeking to lead.
Do you feel like your team is walking along with you on this journey? Or do you feel pretty much alone?
I believe John Maxwell said it best, “He that thinketh he leadeth, and hath no one following, is just out taking a walk.”
Can your team clearly communicate what they are trying to achieve?
For many leaders, asking their team what they are trying to achieve sounds silly. Since I often have the opportunity to interview team members in their organizations, I know that quite often their team members either do not know what their goals are, or they do not see their goals as realistic based on their current circumstances.
How is that possible you might ask? You have told them what their goals are. You even asked if anyone had any questions about how to achieve the goals that you have outlined.
Did they just repeat what you wanted to hear?
Well, in a word – yes. That is exactly what they did. Now, before you are too quick to place the blame on ‘them’, let’s make sure that at least part of the blame should not rest squarely with you as the leader.
Why Can’t I Just Ask My People How I am Doing?
It would be nice if we could just ask the team: Am I am effective leader? Do I communicate well? Do you feel comfortable giving me candid feedback?
You see the challenge here don’t you? It would be a rare employee that would be willing to answer candidly. How will you know if they are being candid?
I wish it was that simple. The good news is that there is a simple process you can follow to determine how effective you are being as a leader. Not as simple as just asking – but a ton more reliable.
Step 1: Create a space for your people to share their feedback.
There is a simple maxim that I often repeat: ‘Be efficient with things – be effective with people.
I don’t know about you, but in my rush to achieve important goals I often find myself trying to be ‘efficient’ in my dealings with others.
To get the kind of feedback you want, you are going to need to sit down individually with your people, whether it be face to face or over some sort of video conference call. This has to be a two way dialogue, so make sure you are not feeling rushed to finish the call in just a few minutes.
Here are the questions that you want to ask each member:
From your perspective, tell me a little about what is happening?
What are your goals? What are you trying to accomplish?
Where are you currently on those goals?
How confident are you in the progress you are making?
Step 2: Listen carefully to how they respond.
Take a step back and really tune in and listen to how your people respond. In order to assess this you cannot be multi tasking. That would be the essence of being ‘efficient’ rather than ‘effective’.
What is their perspective? Does it align with what you have been communicating? Are they sharing information with you in an engaged manner? Or are they just repeating what you have previously told them?
To be truly ‘effective’ you need to assess engagement on three levels:
Words: Do they use words indicating they are engaged? This is the easiest step, but can be overlooked if you are not focused on it properly. The words they choose to use can indicate a lot about their engagement. For example, there is a difference between someone saying that “the company wants me to” or “you want me to” versus someone saying “I want to” or “here’s what we should do.” Nobody says “I have to go to the beach”, they say “I want to go” or “I get to go”. Make sure that the words indicate a desire to engage, not just a repetition of a directive.
Tone: Their tone of voice will also indicate how important this is to them. They will answer with some sort of emotion or lack thereof depending, again, on their feelings of involvement. Tone, cadence and inflection typically change when someone is talking about something that is important to them.
Body Language: Our bodies respond differently when we are engaged versus when we are not. Whether you are having this conversation via video conference or face to face, be sure to pay attention to your colleagues’ eyebrows and eyes as an indicator of their engagement and emotion. When a person is engaged their eyebrows lift and their eyes may even sparkle. When they are in doubt, their eyebrows may furrow and their face may show concern.
This simple test will help you to determine if your people understand what you are trying to accomplish and if they are fully engaged in the process of making it happen.
But if the answers you get to these questions leave you concerned, then perhaps it is time to examine how you could be contributing to the engagement level of your team. This is not to say that the lack of engagement is your fault, but as a leader, it is your job to fix it.
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