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How You can Stay in Touch with Your Team’s Reality

March 12, 2012 2 Comments

Ivory TowerThe following is an excerpt from One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership (you can get your copy here).  This post focuses on the importance of staying in touch with the daily reality your team faces. 

When I was in the army we used to follow a leadership principle that stated “employ your unit in accordance with its capabilities.” That principle was important because you did not want to make the mistake of sending five soldiers carrying rifles out on the battlefield to defeat twenty tanks.

Translating this principle to the civilian world, you do not want to ask your people to perform work of which they are incapable. Doing so can frustrate them and leave them demoralized when they fail at the assigned task.

The only way you can truly appreciate what your team is or is not capable of is to see it first-hand or, better yet, do it yourself. When you understand what your people do on a daily basis you know how much you can reasonably ask of them. That knowledge of their work also enhances your credibility and their respect for you.

Have you ever had the experience where your boss or someone else senior to you asked you to do something that you knew, given the realities of your business and your organization was impossible? It’s frustrating, isn’t it? “If he only had a clue” is likely one of the first thoughts that crosses your mind in those situations.

Next you probably elaborate on the stupidity of the request with thoughts like “I can’t believe he asked for that. We will never be able to get that done in the time he has given us. Doesn’t he know anything about what we go through?”

I will bet you a dime to a dollar your team has said the same thing about you on more than one occasion. I know my teams have said that about me at times. If the behavior of asking for the impossible is dysfunctional, why does it frequently happen?

It happens because we get so caught up in our own worlds and problems that we don’t pay enough attention to the challenges our team members face. This lack of attention creates the disconnect.

If you ignore your team’s reality too often, you will earn a reputation for living in an ivory tower and being “too good” to associate with the common man. You will be perceived as being above the work you ask your people to do every day and out of touch with the day-to-day operations of the business. Those disconnects erode credibility and respect for you as a leader.

If you want to get respect, get dirty. Roll up your sleeves and do the job you are asking your team to do.

You obviously can’t do this all the time, and depending on what your people do you might find yourself doing it more or less frequently.

When I led call center teams I would sit in and listen to customer calls or even handle calls myself every couple of months. When I was a platoon leader and I worked closely with my soldiers I found myself doing “soldierly” tasks every day. Regardless of your position you should perform tasks your teams perform frequently enough to get a good understanding of their jobs and often enough that your people realize you take living their lives seriously.

There are several reasons to dedicate the time and energy to these efforts. First of all, you will better understand what your people go through on a daily basis. Secondly, you will be signaling to them you are not above any work you are asking them to do. Most importantly, the better you understand the tasks they routinely perform, the higher the likelihood that the tasks or projects you ask them to take on are possible and reasonable.

To ensure that you demonstrate this behavior regularly, you need to create a maxim that is a reminder to get out there and get dirty.

How do you stay connected to your team’s reality?  What are your reminders to get out of the office and figure out what’s going on in the “real world?”  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

- If you’re serious about strengthening the connection between you and your team, grab yourself a copy of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. There are plenty of suggestions in there for how you can strengthen your relationship with your team members. CLICK HERE to get your copy.

- Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

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