A peer recently mentioned in passing that "something seemed off" with a member of her team, a direct report.
"Have you asked how she's doing or what's going on?"
"No, I'm not great with that," she sheepishly replied.
I'm not great with that. I'm not great with my people.
Does this sound familiar? Or hit a little too close to home?
We talk about organizational hierarchy in abstractions; your team, your direct report, your employee. What we're actually saying is that "you have people and you are responsible for the output of those people."
Can a leader, of any group of people, be successful without being great with people?
Our conversation proceeded into defensive territory as my peer backpedaled a bit. She described a team-building hour from a few months back where the small group gathered over impromptu snacks and coffee to chat about life outside of work. This was encouraging to hear, but it was also a few months ago.
I offered her an alternative: everyday empathy.
If we commit to being people-first leaders, everyday empathy will naturally follow.
People-first leaders check in with people first. They create routines to check the pulse. They are curious about the root cause of even the most minor of performance issues.
So, how do you get started?
Implement a daily stand-up with your people.
Start the stand-up by taking a quick pulse. Who seems good, who seems tired, who seems like he might be coming down with a cold. Looking at and talking with your people first thing every morning will strengthen your awareness of how everyone is doing. You'll learn patterns (she's not a morning person, or he's more comfortable in smaller groups) and be better equipped to quickly recognize breaks in those patterns.
Start your first meeting of the week with each person by taking a quick pulse.
Yes, even if your first meeting of the week is on a Wednesday afternoon. How is the person doing, how has their week been going, do they seem okay as a person? Get into the habit of doing this before launching into the business at hand.
Be a human.
Own your emotions, publicly acknowledge when you feel off, and make it okay for your people to bring their full self to work. This isn't an invitation for the dramatic; instead, it's an invitation for your people to be human first, employee second.
Listen and act.
As you learn about your people, act on it. Get into the routine of checking in and when something seems off, pull the person aside to check-in. "You seemed a little off at stand-up this morning, is everything okay?" Even if your person chooses to not open up to you, you demonstrated that you care. Caring compounds.
What's worked for you?
What advice do you have for leaders struggling to inject empathy into their day-to-day interactions?
I always make an effort to know the 'person' on my team. The names of their spouse, children, and pets. Stand-up huddles every Monday we share the best and worst of the weekend. People-first is a must! Empathy comes naturally thereafter.— Jack Phan (@JackPhan) April 3, 2018
I encourage fun group activities outside of the office so team members get to know each other on a more personal, real level.— Liz Stincelli (@infinitestin) April 4, 2018