I was working with a leader of an organization (I will call him Joe) who had asked for some help with changing his engagement style. He had decided that he needed to push himself deeper into the details of the multitude of projects that were on-going. Through our discussions and his reflection, he realized was there was so much going on, that he was having trouble providing enough attention to the details involved in each project. He was only sought after and brought in when there was a problem or a tough decision that needed to be made. As this little epiphany came into light he realized that this was not good for him or for his team members. So, he decided he wanted to change his approach, and we were talking about how to most effectively make this transition.
However, it also occurred to him at the same time, that a change in his level of attention could cause the organization to feel a little nervous about what he was doing, and why he was doing it. As we discussed this conundrum, I recalled a time where I was in a similar situation and I had reached out to my coach for similar advice. The point my mentor made, and that I was about to make to Joe, was that first he needed to communicate with his people what was happening and why.
So, I asked Joe, “How do you think your people will feel about this change?” As he explained that he thought they might feel a little unnerved or concerned about why he was changing this approach, I nodded in agreement. He asked me a few more questions and we briefly discussed the problem. Then I said; “Joe, how would you feel if your boss changed his behavior like this with you? “ He explained that he thought he would also feel a little worried, much like his people might feel about this change. I agreed, and then asked him what would make him feel better about a change like this?
I could literally see the lightbulb go off in Joe’s head. He said, “I need to communicate to my team members what I was going to do, what it meant, and why I was going to do it.” The answer was already there; he just wasn’t empathizing with his people yet. Just like putting wheels on suitcases, he just didn’t see it right away.
Joe prepared for the next team meeting to share his plans, his reasoning and what it meant for them. The meeting went great, the people were receptive and they were then eager to share the details Joe was seeking. As this change progressed, Joe became better at coaching and the open and honest dialogue helped his team feel at ease, maybe even a little excited about it. It went better than Joe had expected it to.
Joe later told me, his learning from this process was two-fold. Paraphrasing…
“First, it really me helped to talk with someone about the problem I was facing to seek input and advice. If you have someone to turn to that you respect, seek them out to compare notes, and do it frequently.
Next, if you are changing the way you do something; explain it before you change it. The open dialogue will get your colleagues on your side and willing and able to help you make the transition more successful.”
All great relationships depend on communication. The relationship between manager and employees is certainly no different, indeed, it is crucial to the success of the team. However, for you to create a positive and effective manager-team relationship, you need to build trust. And in order for you to build trust you must communicate effectively. But when you leave employees to wonder what is going on, you create mistrust. And then no matter how much you try to communicate, if they don’t trust you, your people often won’t hear you. So tell your folks what is happening, why is it happening and what it means for them. And do it frequently. Don’t leave them alone to wonder as often-times, they will assume the worst and almost always be wrong.