When is the last time you focused on your relationship with your employees?
In my interviews with more than 1,000 leaders and their staffs during consulting and coaching engagements, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon: The most effective leaders inspire results by creating mutually rewarding relationships with their employees.
Simply put, leaders’ expressed support of their employees’ abilities and contributions helps build workers’ confidence, commitment level and job satisfaction. The result is highly engaged employees who are more productive and often uncover options that bolster the organization’s bottom line.
Engaged employees are not just found, however. Just as marriage counselors tell us that maintaining a good relationship takes work, leaders must actively nurture a sense of engagement within the organization.
In the Journal of Business Ethics last year, management professors Cam Caldwell and Rolf Dixon suggest love, forgiveness and trust are critical values for leaders who want to inspire employee initiative and responsibility as well as increased commitment and loyalty. They define love as the “unconditional acts of respect, caring and kindness that communicate the worth of others and that promote their welfare, growth and wholeness.” The ultimate payoff for leaders who love their workers is a stronger overall organization.
While the form of servant leadership Caldwell and Dixon describe departs from the old command-and-control style, it’s not a new concept. They cite James Autry’s 1991 book, “Love and Profit: The Art of Caring Leadership,” in which Autry writes, “Good management is largely a matter of love. Or if you’re uncomfortable with that word, call it caring, because proper management involves caring for people, not manipulating them.”
So how can a leader convey a sense of love or caring that inspires employees? Based on my interviews, the following are five essentials:
When you give your team members the ability to take advantage of opportunities and address issues on their own, you send a powerful message: You trust them to make good decisions. They, in turn, will return that trust in spades by delivering on the responsibility you’ve given them. This trusting relationship will serve as a strong foundation for the overall dynamic between leaders and employees within your organization, leading to engaged employees who operate as ambassadors to customers.
One management team member of an organization struggling with some serious internal issues announced to his employees after hearing about findings from our interviews, “I’m ashamed. How did we get here?” When I heard him, I knew he was going to triumph over the situation and get things back on track. This leader had the courage to deal honestly with the issues, acknowledge his feelings about the situation, and ask for input from his employees to make improvements.
Many employee engagement studies boil down to one common issue: Employees don’t know how their day-to-day work is moving the company toward achieving its overall goals. No matter the size of the organization, every worker needs to understand the company’s mission and what their role is in accomplishing the objective.
Employee recognition doesn’t have to be expensive. I’ve heard countless times in my interviews how employees valued a personal phone call or an e-mail from the chief executive officer that recognizing a job well done. Indeed, I have long saved a hand-written note I received from a client at the end of an engagement. Everyone likes to be appreciated and hear that his or her work is valued.
The first meeting I ever had with a chief executive officer was supposed to last 15 minutes. Instead, we spoke for two hours about his career, the difficult choices he had been forced to make, and the challenges of communicating those decisions to his staff.
As we talked about how to engage his employees in a new initiative, I was struck by two thoughts: One, while company leadership is certainly exhilarating, it also can be lonely at the top. Even chief executives need to talk things out now and then. Two, it takes courage to communicate the toughest decisions. It can be tempting, and might initially seem easier, to retreat to the corner office and not come out.
In sum, it’s important for leaders to get out of the corner office and interact with the people they lead to inspire them to deliver on their promises. If you do this regularly, your employees will feel engaged and committed to organizational success. And those are results you’re sure to love.
Jenny Schade is president of JRS Consulting Inc., a firm that helps organizations build leading brands and efficiently attract and motivate employees and customers. Schade also publishes the JRS Newsletter.