The Leader’s Goal: Understanding People

Beverly Flaxington

The Leader’s Goal: Understanding People

In the past three weeks, I have facilitated several meetings within organizations both large and small in which I helped teams create plans to meet their goals. One common and recurring theme I hear is the “problem with management” or “the leaders don’t understand what we’re dealing with”. When these comments are made, the leaders aren’t in the room. And in my own experience, even if they were, they might not be responsive to this criticism about their lack of commitment and understanding.

It’s hard to lead if you don’t know whether or not your followers are following you. The leader who charges ahead and doesn’t, at least, look back to see if they have support could be opening themselves up for failure. In battle, whether on the military field or in the boardroom, a lone leader doesn’t have the best chance for long-term survival!

What does it take for a leader to really understand the people working for him or her? What does it mean to understand the people below, and find their triggers for motivation and commitment? How can a leader determine whether they have allegiance and their team is behind them? It starts with being willing to look at one’s self as a leader. How much are you willing to self-examine and review your leadership style? How willing are you to listen to obstacles and work with staff members to create constructive solutions? How willing are you to take the time to understand the roles and responsibilities of those beneath you? How much do you know about your own organization and the people within it?

The leader who seeks to understand, to quote Stephen Covey, will get further faster than the one who simply wants to be understood. When leaders are not engaged, and are not consistently checking in to see what’s working and what’s not, they are lacking important information about how their vision is translating into action.

What steps can leaders take to get more in touch with their team members?

  1. Hold open forums where you, as leader, share the vision and the mission and your goals for the company. Then, have a chance for feedback and sharing of ideas around how best to implement for success.
  2. Separately from a scheduled performance review process, take the time to sit with each key senior member of your team for a thorough debrief and discussion – at least twice a year. Have them walk through a “normal” day and uncover what’s working and what’s not. See if you can identify themes amongst team members, even in different departments or divisions.
  3. Support off-sites and team meetings where staff can get together and solve problems and brainstorm. Come into these meetings at the end to hear the ideas and confirm where you can provide support or to seek more information.
  4. If possible, walk through the work areas on a regular basis. Stop and talk to people far down the “food chain” to learn what they are doing, and to show them your interest in their activities.
  5. Celebrate wins and seek to understand losses without adding personal blame.
  6. Act respectfully toward each member of the team. Listen to them when they speak; don’t check your Blackberry or emails. Give them your full attention and see what you can learn about their ideas to be more effective in the business.