Recently, at a leadership workshop where I was presenting a program on engagement, we were talking about the importance of actually caring about one’s direct reports. It’s tough to positively impact and/or sustain engagement without a genuine regard for those you supervise.
I know that can be tough when the person you are supervising is a “Chain Gang Member” – AKA someone who is actively disengaged. It’s easy to care about the people who agree with you and who support you along the way. It’s tougher when the other person is…tougher. I understand that none of this sounds scientific so let’s just call this the “art” of engagement.
One of the participating leaders came up to me after the session and thanked me for sharing this perspective about the importance of caring for those on your team. She shared that her boss has come up to her desk on six different occasions (literally 6 times) and said, “I love your mug”. The participant said that after the second time, it didn’t strike a genuine chord and felt insincere at best. Her thought was, “Isn’t there something else to comment on besides my ‘nice mug’?” I’m guessing that her boss meant well, but missed the mark.
As leaders who care, it’s important to create personalized connections with those who report to you. Nothing says “I care” like a genuine comment about something that is important to the person in front of you. Here are a few questions to think about:
• What do you really know about this person inside or outside of work?
• What’s something comment-worthy to notice or talk about?
• How can you learn more?
Spending time informally is a great start. My former boss, Liz Dunne, was a master at getting to know us (her direct reports) as people. She knew what was important to me because she took the time to listen and learn. We all had lunch together on a regular basis and we laughed! She paid attention. In turn I wanted to know more about what was important to her. It was a great collegial relationship that created a climate of engagement for me and my peers.
So when you’re thinking about engagement, one comment about the mug is great – IF there’s something special about it (a picture of someone’s child or happy memory, etc.). When you genuinely care about someone who reports to you, the evidence is your interest, your time and your willingness to connect.