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How to Lead People for Results

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How to Lead People for Results

    In a recent conversation I was told, “Leadership is about managing time and getting things done.” I couldn’t disagree more.

    In my role at the Free Articulator, I manage and lead writers and editors every day. It has been said in the past that trying to manage artists (and all of our writers are) is a very difficult task. I can’t honestly disagree with that. The following is a recount of the experience I’ve gained thus far in building teams that do the work.

    My response to the aforementioned person was this: leadership is about giving your people the tools to succeed.

    Developing Relationships: The Right Foundation

    I have met, and worked for, people who believed that a certain level of separation between themselves and their employees will make a better work environment. Apparently, it gives the impression that they really are the “boss,” another cut above the rest.

    Do you want to be a boss or a leader?

    Bosses give instructions and people follow them out to avoid a short meeting with the human relations director. If the financial need to hold onto the job disappears or another offer comes up, employees quit. The perfect example is the Pointy-Haired Boss from Dilbert. If you’re like that boss, your employees hate you and make witty cynical jokes about you all day.

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    Managers and leaders who forge relationships with employees are in a much better position. Many employees are likely to stick around even if a job with better pay comes up – within a reasonable margin, anyway. Better yet, where the employees of a Pointy-Haired Boss do the absolute minimum as ordered, those employees you have relationships with are likely to go a step further and provide you with the best outcome they can.

    Rule #1 of Relationships: Be Genuine

    The people who work for or with you (with you is always better) are not stupid. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but it goes without saying: develop genuine relationships. If you were to apply this advice and forge human relationships with your staff, but couldn’t manage to be real about it, then they’ll see right through it as a false attempt to care. Frankly, if you can’t care about your staff in a real way, you’re not management or leadership material. Unless you are part of the cast of Dilbert.

    If you’re in charge of hiring the people you work with, you’ve got a great advantage here!

    Personal Relationships Set The Tone

    I work with people who can tell me about both their successes and failures in business and personal life. They don’t do it to shirk their duties, they always get the job done, barring factors that simply make it impossible. Personal relationships do set the tone for their time working with you.

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    The Greatest Management Oxymoron: Leaders Serve

    Here’s another Pointy-Haired Boss trait: the power trip. Never get on the power trip. Never think that your position makes you more important. Your position and role is to serve everyone else. You provide direction and you provide assistance in getting the job done.

    You can’t do your employee’s jobs for them, but as the go-to person you can make sure that the daily operations are actually contributing to big picture goals. If you’re a Pointy-Haired Boss, you’re not the go-to person. You’re kept out of the loop, employees deceive you rather than discuss with you, and a lack of company cohesion means more problems and more time involved in attaining those big picture goals.

    So, you serve your staff. You’re there to help them get their job done, not to just tell them to do it.

    The term “big picture” is important, too. If your team cannot see the end result, the reasons why, the motivations, emotions and outcomes poured into and desired from a project, then their small-time thinking will be a demotivator. Show them the road ahead, and they’ll travel there.

    The Trademark of Great Leaders: Functional Teams

    Teams are selected from a pool of people with different skills, viewpoints, attitudes and desires. Good teams are not chosen before the project is, because it takes a certain person, and a certain set of people, to attain different goals.

    But selecting the right set of people is the easy part. Making them work together is hard.

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    Don’t Confuse Roles

    There are times when you don’t see your team working well together and you look for ways to solve this and resolve on the easiest thing you can find: artificial situations. Asking your e-commerce programmer to look over a design with the graphic artist is an artificial situation. You can’t get relationships and communication lines to grow this way, since both individuals will be peeved with the interruption that’s not beneficial to either of them.

    If good relationships don’t grow naturally, the least you can do is look for natural situations to promote them; get the copywriter to go through their content with the graphic artist, and discuss how the visual feel of the page should reflect the copy.

    Make Communication Work

    First, communication fails when people aren’t people, but roles and numbers. People have names, not designations. Bear this in mind when handing out email addresses.

    Second, don’t CC or memo everyone on everything. Again, the e-commerce programmer doesn’t need to or want to know about the low quality of the JPEGs in a web layout. You might think sending these memos to everyone makes them feel like their part of something, but what it does is clog up information lines.

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    “But it’s better than nothing!”

    No, it’s worse than nothing. When you clog up information lines, the information that matters – the information that does aid in building good communication and relationships – will probably go unnoticed.

    Building a Comfortable Atmosphere

    Still on the relationships topic, just because you try to forge them with your team doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe doing the same with each other. Eliminate the stuffy suit-and-tie atmosphere. I don’t mean necessarily change the dress code, but don’t be too formal; use it where necessary, especially when communicating with external publics, but promote a relaxed, fun yet productive environment internally.

    It is safe, free-flowing communication that produces results, not forced communication. Remember that if someone has a reason not to communicate, they probably won’t. Find the barriers and shove them off a cliff when nobody’s looking.

    I’ve only been doing this for a few years, but that’s my experience of building effective, cohesive and long-term teams. If you have a high turnover or low employee efficiency problem, give these tips a try. Through trial and error, they worked for me.

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    More by this author

    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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