- When was the last time you had a true belly laugh with your team?
- Does the thought of having lunch with your team -- with no agenda or brown bag lunch topic planned -- make you nervous?
- When was the last time your team gave you honest feedback -- to your face -- because you want to hear from them?
If you wish I'd stop asking such annoying questions, your leadership style probably isn't very... how can I say this diplomatically... comfortable. It's probably a bit distant, autocratic, and intimidating.
I was talking with a senior manager last week about several cultural issues his organization is facing. As we reviewed the results of a leadership 360 assessment his team had completed, he became defensive. When I asked how comfortable he would be in simply pulling his team together to talk with them about the assessment and some of the various comments they'd provided, he said he wouldn't.
I don't just "talk" with my team for "no purpose". I don't have time that kind of time. We don't have the type of relationship where we just talk about ourselves. When we talk, we talk about our customers, projects, and important things like that. We don't just talk for the sake of talking.
To share a different perspective, a few weeks ago, I worked with a newly forming senior team in Canada. After the initial planned sessions to clarify the goals and focus of the team, information and exercises to get to know the individual team members better, etc., the Vice President had arranged for the entire team to have a casual dinner together and play Whirlyball ... just to get to know each other a bit better. It was a fun, as well as a terribly interesting evening to see how quickly the relationships of this newly forming team developed over the course of five hours. The team members were teasing, challenging, and either teaming up with or battling against the vice president comfortably. He was completely comfortable in letting the team members get to see him at his most competitive and sometimes -- at his less-than-best. They went from being unsure and professionally polite that morning, to being a much more cohesive, comfortable team by that evening.
So what causes the difference in these two leaders?
From my perspective, it's a base willingness to be uncomfortable and less than perfect at times, so your team can be comfortable with you. It's being willing to show your team members you actually like them and want them to like working with you. Your title and position are already intimidating to some, so why keep the intimidation factor ratcheted up by acting as if they irritate you? Besides, if they are that irritating, why are they still working with you? However, if you do like your team members, why aren't you comfortable showing it? What archaic vision of leadership are you trying to project? Whatever it is, it's not working. If you can't laugh with your team fairly regularly, something is seriously wrong with the relationship or the work you're doing. If you can't enjoy a relaxing lunch with your team and just talk about non-work-related things, something is seriously wrong with the relationship or the work you're doing. And if your team can not comfortably share their needs, concerns and suggestions with you on how you can be a better leader to help them, again something is wrong with the relationship or the work you're doing. They're not comfortable with you because you're not comfortable with your own leadership.
So if you want to become a more effective leader, identify ways to become more...comfortable.
Your team will appreciate it, you'll become more productive, and you'll have a lot more fun in the process.