Leaders Know Their People

This week, I want to touch on a big role of leaders, which is the importance of getting to know their people.

When I was getting my Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, one of the required classes was Career Counseling. I had worked at Group Dynamic for three years when I took this class, and I dreaded it. The class was as dry and boring as I had feared. For the duration of the class, I thought, “I am never going to use this information. What a waste of time.”

Fast forward a couple of years, and I’d like to report that I was absolutely, completely, and unequivocally wrong. I use the information from that class on an almost daily basis.

People’s work is part of their identity.

There are 120 hours Monday through Friday. Forty-ish of those are spent sleeping, which leaves 80 hours of consciousness. Half, or more, of those conscious hours are spent at work. Therefore, half of our work week is being an employee. The other half is split between our family life, social life, spiritual life, and down time. Thus, for many people, their work identity is one of their most significant life roles. It defines them.

When adults come in for counseling, their work life is one of the problems they discuss. For some clients, work is their main reason for seeking counseling. Here are some of the concerns I hear most:

  • Too much work and not enough time to complete it.
  • We’re understaffed, and we are expected to produce as if we aren’t.
  • My boss doesn’t communicate well, and I don’t know what is expected of me.
  • I hate my job.
  • My colleagues don’t communicate well.
  • People at work are stressed out and rude.
  • I’m burnt out.
  • Double standards.
  • I love my job, but I have problems with my boss and colleagues.

Being a leader is a people-oriented job.

People are your priority. In other words, it’s your job as a leader to really know them, their job, and how they function while at work.

What does the work culture look like? Are environmental issues being overlooked? How well do teams work together? Where are the relational conflicts? Is every member of your team being utilized to the best of their abilities? Are there team members who are being over-utilized? Under-utilized? What additional training would help people do their jobs well? Is there more you can do as a leader to create a hospitable, inclusive, and healthy work environment?

In her best-selling book Multipliers, Liz Wiseman encourages leaders to observe their people and ask themselves if each person is in the “right” position for their skill level. These include both hard skills and soft skills. Good workers want to stay in their positions, because most really like their jobs. So what can leaders do to ensure good workers stay?

Get to know them. Listen without judgement or defensiveness. Observe employee dynamics. Check your own blind spots. Ensure your people are using their skills and talents. Get training for your people and yourself. Let go of how you think the culture “should” be, and work with the culture as it is.

Thanks for reading,

DeAnne Negley, T-LMHC, NCC

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