“My team leader only cares whether I show up to get my job done or not.”
The hurt hung on more than just their words, I could see it in their eyes as they told me why had stepped away from a team that had been working with for years. Though they had recently gone through a grueling series of health and financial challenges, exhaustion was not what had led them to step off the team that had previously been a source of energy and purpose--apathy was.
The team member went on to tell me that throughout the months of difficulty, their team leader had not reached out once to check in on them or offer any kind of support. In fact the only time the leader did contact them was when the team member declined to cover an extra ‘shift.’ And then the conversation was only to guilt trip them for not being a ‘go-to’ member of the team.
Ultimately, failing to show care is failing to lead.
Now, I realize that this is just one side of a two-sided situation and in fairness I haven’t talked to the team leader to get his or her perspective. I am confident that if I did, there would be points of this conflict that were left out. But what is both obvious and undeniable is that an environment within a team had gotten to the point where a team member concluded that their leader did not care about what was going on in their life, only whether or not the job was getting done. And ultimately, failing to show care is failing to lead.
Now before you throw labels like ‘snowflake’ in my direction, let me explain.
The people we lead do not set aside the other facets of their lives when they ‘clock in’ any more than you and I do. In fact, you can probably easily think of a day or week, where something happening beyond your job effected the quality of your work, either positively or negatively. As hard as we try to compartmentalize, life areas touch and effect other areas. The same is true for our team members.
So, what do we do? Do we have to tip-toe, placate, and hand-hold every team member every time difficulty hits their personal life? The answer is No. However, how we treat and acknowledge them and their life beyond their job will go a long way to helping them be able to navigate it and keep them as healthy members of the team. Here are 3 ways you can show your team members that you really care about who they are, not just what they do.
1. Listen Up
Be listening for points of interest, hobbies, or pass times they have beyond work that you do NOT have in common. We tend to connect with people over shared experiences (enjoying the same music genre, following the same sports teams, etc) and avoid topics that don’t interests us. However, the struggle is that the conversation can subtly become about us instead of focused on them. “ Oh, yeah... I remember the first professional baseball game I went to...” While those conversation can help bond, if point is to show them then pick a to topic that only interests them. In doing so you are sending a message that screams “I care about this because you do, and I care about you.”
I have a team member who loves to jam... as in make jam. Its a huge family ordeal that happens every year in the fall. They have named it, maybe even had t-shirts made. I know about it because it requires them to take time off to be out of town for this extravaganza. I should point out that I know nothing about jam except how to spread it on things. But through several conversations, my team member has explained the delicacies of the process with joy in her eyes. I listen not because I am contemplating taking on a new hobby, but rather to communicate “You matter and this matters to you...so I am listening.”
2. Learn Up
As a leader you need to not only know what your team member cares about, you need to be constantly getting to know WHO they care about too. Whether it is their partners, their kids, parents or pets— 99.999% of our people have other ‘people’ outside of the context we know them in... and those relationships are extremely important. Knowing who those people are and being able to inquire about current events, reinforces that you are aware of what and who is important to them. Asking about their husband’s job, their wife’s parents, their child’s college status, even their dog’s anxiety medication sends a powerful message that “I care about you.”
3. Show Up
In times of significant crisis—You need to be there. (We are talking more than their favorite show being taken off Netflix).This one is admittedly the hardest and for two reasons. First, It requires that you already have some kind of positive report with your team members beyond work in order for you to even be made aware (which is why #1 & #2 are so vital). Secondly, these crisis, by definition, rarely happen at a good time—for your team member or for you. But I cannot stress how loud the “I care” statement can be by simply showing your face and asking if there is anything you can do.
It was after 10 PM one night when I received a text that one of my team members was being taken to the hospital by ambulance with extreme abdominal pain. This was a team member of mine and they were walking into a moment of uncertainty, not know if this was going to be serious or not, so meeting them at the hospital wasn’t even a question—it was the only response. As luck would have it, I beat the ambulance there so I met them at on the sidewalk. Happily while the situation required surgery, it was non-emergent and routine. I didn’t do much, except pray and offer to get coffee and food for my team member’s family while they waited. However years later, that team member will share how seeing my face when the ambulance doors opened made an impact on them and let them know their team cared about them... as a person.
At Red Chair Leaders we believe that they answer to these (and other) leadership pain points is a team based model. For more information about how to inject team based leadership into your organization, visit RedChairLeadership.com.