Sometimes it’s obvious. A figure stands in the doorway both sudden and timid, wanting a conversation, “Do you have a minute?”
Something is wrong and they need to talk. It’s serious. They’re worried.
Sometimes it’s more subtle. They’re suddenly inconsistent at work, they talk less, and they seem to be losing connection.
Something is wrong and you need to get them to talk. It could be serious. You should be worried.
My largest learning opportunities in leadership are the moments where I didn’t follow my own rules on putting people first. I made the commitment to not get this wrong when it wasn’t done right for me; I made the recommitment to not get this wrong when I did it wrong.
My biggest learning opportunity as a leader was not taking time for a someone who was clearly going through something and failing to be present for them. To this day I’m uncertain if I could have helped, but I still regret not taking the time to try. My lack of commitment in this person’s moment of need is my why for all the other times I am been present.
I’m by no means perfect and still build myself off of my learning opportunities, but leadership is having an always learning mentality, so I try to keep what I learn from being repetitious.
Never give up, always evolve.
While in leadership roles, I’ve had people who report to me go through a variety of life crisis. They aren’t managing money well, a family member has passed away, a spouse has cancer, they have a chronically ill pet, their marriage is falling apart, they’ve fallen into a deep depression, they’ve hit that stage in life where they’re temped to change everything and that’s not leading to good choices…etc.
The list could go on for days. That makes sense. The people who report to you are just that, they’re people.
So, what do you do?
What would you do for a family member; how would you help a friend?
What you don’t want to do is miss an opportunity to show someone kindness. Now, that doesn’t mean you drop everything the second you see something inconsistent and go after it. That might feel more punitive; avoid an approach where your chief concern is your workflow or their productivity rate.
What you do first is know the people you work with well enough to know when something is wrong. When something is wrong, be humane first and worry about them as a person. I’ve seen leaders start with frustration over their outcomes and those leaders usually struggle to garner implicit trust and intrinsic motivation from those that they lead.
Be tactful in your approach and remember that helping people should feel helpful but you can’t tread into a territory you are not welcome in.
You owe it to yourself and your organization to be solution focused, being solution focused means helping people in a crisis recognize it, identify something what would help, and see them through it. That effort and investment is what builds relationships; you should do it because it’s the right thing to do.
What I like to do is to set aside time to sit down with someone and ask how they’re doing, have a light conversation noting behavior changes if they don’t immediately open up, and then assure them that I’m here for them if they do want to talk. I always provide resources or alternatives to talking to me if they don’t want to. If they do share an issue, I make sure they know my role is to make sure they have what they need to overcome it before it impacts their work (or to offset the impact it’s already starting to have).
It’s important people know your heart is in wanting to proactively help them and not to reactively respond. That goes back to knowing your people well enough to recognize an issue ahead of time – it’s not always possible but there are usually signs.
Be present and engaged with the people you lead by helping them make a difference. If you aren’t present, or if you have leaders within your team who aren’t, then you’ll end up relying on having difficult conversations to manage for outcomes, rather than having difficult conversations when all else has failed. I’ve seen people lean on that and it builds unfortunate results, because that’s what you do when being present isn’t working – not what you do first.
You just have to learn who people are in order to be an effective leader. Although having difficult conversations with staff is a necessary part of a business, it is possible to lead people in such a way that you support them, give them the tools they need, and stay out of their way unless they need you.
Getting creative helps, every situation is different.
Sometimes a 30-minute shift change does more for them in terms of stress management than weeks of counseling could do. Sometimes hearing that someone noticed is all it takes. I’ve even had them tell me what they’re already doing to help themselves, these are usually the folks you never have to talk to a second time (but you do anyways to be sure they are alright).
Of course, sometimes they don’t want the assistance.
That’s OK, the point is being a leader is showing up and recognizing, offering, and showing that you care.
Never abuse the trust people give you. Never fail to recognize how critical something is to them. Never fail to keep people’s confidence, unless you feel they’re a danger to themselves or others.
Never stop learning that perfection for them, or you, is unrealistic… but being great together is realistic.
Building an effective team is hard, it starts with a sense of family where people can speak freely but that’s dependent on trust. Remember, everything you face in leadership is an opportunity to do something great.
Helping people be their best selves is always the right investment.
Andrew Grimm holds a master's degree in healthcare administration and a bachelor's in science for IT management. He’s worked in healthcare for over 20 years and he’s been in leadership positions for well over a decade. Andrew’s early experiences with leadership include being a team leader in a fast-food franchise and a leadership position as an intern for Walt Disney World. He’s presently a vice president for a health system in Northern Indiana. Andrew is a La Porte native, where he lives still with his wife and two children. He has several hobbies including gardening and various attempts at woodworking and remodeling.