How to be a Tuned-in Leader (part 1)

Does someone have to throw a brick at you to get your attention?

For all too many people, the answer is “yes.” In my coaching practice when I’m working with two or more people in the same company, I’ve heard various people say, “Talking to you is like talking to a brick wall.”

In a survey of 5000 managers across the country from many different industries, I asked them to rank ten employee-engagement factors from one to ten, one being the item that was most needed by the employees. I then asked their 50,000 employees to make the same ranking.

Sadly enough, the employees ranked “full appreciation for work done” as the #1 most important thing they wanted from their managers. But their managers ranked that same item as #8, saying it was one of the least important things they should be doing. No wonder the employees felt like they were hitting a brick wall.

I can’t tell you how many people have said to me that my workshop on The Power of Partnership would have helped their team achieve so much more and some even said it would have saved or improved their marriage, IF they had taken it a few years before. They waited too long, paid a big price, and it took a so-called “brick” or workshop to wake them up as to how they could perform more effectively.

So how can you be a more tuned-in leader or tuned-in individual? What can you do to attract the attention, respect, cooperation and motivation of others? What can you do so it won’t take a brick to get your attention?

Of course, I’m going to say there’s no substitute for education … real, live, hands-on, interactive learning … because that’s the truth. No book or set of good intentions will ever replace that.

► 1. Take time to build relationships.

I know you’re busy. But so is everybody else. That makes your occasional walking about, connecting with people all the more valuable.

However, when you take the time to interact with people at work, don’t make them feel like you’re wasting their time by chit-chatting about something as mundane as the weather or as frustrating as the gas prices. They already know about that. And they will feel like you’re wasting their time when they have other things they have to do.

Remember you’re taking time to build relationships with these people. And you do that when you do one of two things: 1) show personal interest or 2) provide value.

To show personal interest, ask questions that indicate you’d like to know them a little better. Or you’d like to learn something from them, such as their opinion on the best way to handle a situation. Those approaches make them feel important and make you look tuned-in.

To provide value, before you approach someone, think of what value you might have to give them. Perhaps you’re aware of some food they like and you know about a great restaurant that provides that food. Or maybe you picked up some notes at a conference and you know they would find one or two of the points particularly interesting. When you offer value that applies to an individual in particular, you’re sending the message that “You’re so important that I’ve taken the time to tune into you and what would be important to you. I don’t need a brick to bring that to my attention.”

To stay tuned in as a leader or as an individual, you must also…

► 2. Talk more about “we” than “me.”

Unfortunately, human nature tends to be selfish. It’s natural and unfortunate that most of us are more concerned with our hangnail than the fact that thousands of people just died in an earthquake somewhere else in the world. It’s natural but it’s NOT effective in the world of human relations.

And yet this focus on me, me, me is quite common. I see it at the universities when the graduate students do all the research for a certain professor and then he publishes his articles and books under his name … as though he did it all by himself and deserves all the credit. Shame on him.

You see it when a certain team develops a new product that becomes a huge financial success, but you only see the CEO on TV talking about her vision and how her vision allowed this kind of breakthrough to take place. Shame on her.

But there are some wonderful tuned-in leaders out there as well. As a professional speaker, I get to meet and work with lots of them. I get to speak at their meetings, learning as much from them as I teach them. One such leader that I hold in high regard is Jill Blashack-Strahan, President and CEO of Tastefully Simple, who received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

When she went on the Academy Awards-like stage to articulate her words of acceptance and thanks, she said she was overcome with humility and gratitude, because as she said, “Any recognition we’ve received, truly does not belong to me. It belongs to all of the people who are ambassadors for Tastefully Simple every day. I didn’t build this company.”

Jill went on to say, “I’m not the smiling face representing Tastefully Simple as our Ambassador of First Impressions in our headquarters’ lobby. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple through the excellent picking, packing and shipping of our products. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple in our contract negotiations or in the quality of our facility or mailings. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple in the prompt attention to our accounts payable or in the high-pressure inventory management function.”

Talk about a tuned-in leader. Jill continued, “I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple in our Sales Team by addressing our consultants’ day-to-day issues and challenges. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple in Team Relations when they’re hiring or dealing with sensitive issues. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple during intense special projects or impromptu, immediate marketing and public relations needs. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple through superb training, graphic design and communication pieces and product development.”

Jill finished by saying, “I didn’t do it. We did it.

Today, I urge all of you to be more tuned in to the people around you. Don’t wait for a brick, such as some of your employees leaving you, before you figure out to keep your employees. Don’t wait for a brick, such as a divorce, before you wake up and learn to spend some quality time on your relationship. Tune in now.

Where do you need to start tuning in more? Do it now.