A Little Encouragement Goes a Long Way

The need to feel unique starts in grade school or even earlier if we have siblings. With so many people in the world, we want to stand out and be noticed for our talents and ideas. That is not something that goes away when we graduate from high school, however.  It carries on to adulthood and in to business, where even if we do not work for praise. it is still nice to be recognized for the effort we put in.

A good manager will have the emotional intelligence to realize a paycheck doesn’t get people to go the extra mile. Even if our leaders miss the mark, any member of the team can increase morale by letting others know they are appreciated. This is where honest, positive reinforcement comes in to play. And many in the American workforce are starving for professional validation.

All human beings need to feel appreciated by others we respect. Simple, sincere words can be inspiring to those who may have no inspiration otherwise;

“I AM PROUD OF YOU!”

This phrase, when sincere, can touch someone at the core of who they are. However, in some work environments, it may be too familiar. A more professional comment may be;

“YOU DID A GREAT JOB!”

Of course, both mean pretty much the same thing. The idea is to recognize those teammates around us who may not get the much needed recognition they deserve or even crave.

The Leader of the Band

Every team has a leader, either officially or otherwise. We typically think of a leader as one who is out front like an officer leading his unit into war, a businessperson at the end of a meeting table or a conductor with an orchestra. Though not every influential person is out front, this is likely what we imagine and for good reason.  A team will take comfort seeing the one with control over our livelihoods at the head of the pack. Or else, we start to wonder where that person is and get paranoid with all sorts of frightful thoughts.

In college, I was required to take a music appreciation class. I reluctantly attended, after all, what were you going to teach me about AC/DC or Billy Idol I didn’t already know? To my surprise, I actually got a lot out of the class. Though I rarely listen to Classic Music these days, I did learn a rConductor.jpgespect for other genres. Perhaps the most was gained for an orchestra and all the tireless work that group goes through to make a concert seem effortless. One nagging question I had for years before the class was; what instrument does the conductor play? If the musicians know what they’re doing, why do they need that guy? AC/DC didn’t need a conductor.

I asked the professor to shed some light on the issue. He stated a conductor is also a composer and will many times put his own spin on a classic piece. Although he cannot play all the instruments, he knows HOW each should sound. If there is a problem, the conductor can devote time working with the musician to figuring out what is wrong. There are many such things that go on behind the scenes, but when it is “go time”, the orchestra and the audience expect to see him there.

In a lot of ways, that is how it is in business. The CEO may not have all the answers or be the smartest person in the room, but she is expected to lead nonetheless. Like a conductor who cannot play the tuba, a leader may not be someone who has come up through the ranks of the technicians (accountants, maintenance and IT people)  they lead. However, it is very important the leader demonstrate her abilities. Members of a team are always giong to ask; “How is my job easier or more difficult with her around?” It’s a fair question and one that all bosses must answer. Otherwise the team will suffer from trust issues.

If the president of an engineer firm has a civil engineering degree and spent the past couple of decades working on high profile projects, that president will easily gain the confidence of rest of the firm. Otherwise, management must go another route to win the trust of everyone. Years ago, medical centers were run by the smartest doctor on staff. Now, many hospital administrators in the 21st century do not come from medical backgrounds. So, they are expected to show expertise in being up to date with procedures, keeping the facility out of lawsuits, confirming people are properly trained, making the important decisions and sharing the overall vision of the hospital with its people. NOT performing open heart surgery.

I do know one hospital administrator who has her RN, but she also seems to display her managerial prowess as well. She’s very approachable and even takes lunch with patients. And that is the point. A leader MUST SHOW the team they are worthy of the leadership position. Where there is no trust in the leader, there is paranoia among the team. Position power is short lived and “because I told you so” just doesn’t cut it in today’s world.

Developing the Team

Much like a corporation is considered its own entity, teams will take on a life of their own. This is a good thing when you have the right bunch of people and can lead to better productivity. Micromanaging is counterproductive in the long run and not a growing trend for leadership in the 21st century. The conundrum is how to let go of control and signal to the staff it’s alright to pick up the slack. In an organization where all plans and decisions are centralized, that transformation will not take place overnight. This is where the boss must be willing to let go of a certain amount of control and begin to encourage employees to take more initiative. But, the proper relationship between team and team leader needs to be in place.

Workers need to have a certain amount of trust before they are willing to take on greater responsibilities. A common fear is someone might make a mistake (and they will) and be blamed for a bad decision. People need to know it is alright to occasionally go out on a limb because management will offer the safety net below. This begins with a sense of belonging.

When team members know they are legitimately valued as a part of the organization, they tend to take ownership. Ownership of the department, ownership of decisions, and themselves ownership of their own mistakes. Empower people and give them access to more resources and decisions. Allow them to speak freely about concerns they may have about a specific task. This will not only lead to better morale but less stress for management.

Several articles and business text books have been written of the extreme measures the five-star hotel chain Ritz-Carlton will undergo to satisfy their guests. In fact, each employee has a budget of up to $2000, per incident, to ensure guests will come back again. If a valet or maid can fix an issue, they do so, even without managerial approval. This level of trust in turn, spurs greater loyalty from company employees. With the average patron paying a quarter-million dollars over a lifetime, it’s a wise investment.

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