When you choose the responsibility of leading others, relationships form. That’s just part of any hierarchical leadership role. The quality of that relationship is up to you. You determine if you have an excellent, good, average, bad, or toxic relationship with each person on your team.
As anyone who has had a boss knows, this relationship can be the catalyst for an engaged or a disengaged employee. As Marcus Buckingham said, “People don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers.” Research supports this; a recent Gallup study found that the #1 reason people quit their jobs is a bad boss or immediate supervisor.
Leaders don’t have to be friends with employees, but they do have to care.
Unfortunately, many managers get this simple lesson wrong. They make the mistake of acting like they are on a different team with their people instead of the same team. The best leaders do the opposite. They know their job is to be their team members ally and care about them enough to build a bond of mutual trust. Part of that trust is knowing an employee is cared for or even loved by their boss. Yes, I used the word love, but not in any HR violation kind of way. Love is a component to elevate other people, which is critical to be a successful leader today. I define love in Building the Best as “to contribute to someone’s long-term success and well being.”
Don’t just take my word for it. Researchers at the University of Berkley studied what motivates productivity in professionals. When people felt recognized for the work they did, they were 23% more effective and productive. But what’s even more astonishing is that when people felt valued and cared for, their productivity and effectiveness experienced a 43% increase. While recognition is essential, there is an additional 20% jump in performance by showing your people you care for them.
How to Show You Care in the First Minute
As you may have guessed, there is no hack or shortcut to caring about your team. If you don’t care, maybe now is the time to look for a position other than leadership. But where most leaders struggle is demonstrating that they care about others through their actions.
Leaders get the opportunity to demonstrate how much they care about their team in many different ways. Whether it be an annual performance review, a weekly one-on-one meeting, or a daily zoom call, each interaction provides an opportunity to show you care.
One of the easiest ways to show you care is by implementing this simple technique within the first minute of every interaction you have; it’s what I call the “One-Minute Rule”:
Within the first minute, decide to care by giving your undivided attention and showing genuine curiosity in the other person.
While this might seem obvious, most leaders don’t have difficulty caring; it’s starting to care. Leaders are busy and have many things on their mind, so getting in the correct mindset of care in each interaction can be easily forgotten.
Not Just Any Curiosity
Curiosity is defined as the strong desire to learn or know something. Many managers start their interactions with a curiosity that isn’t effective. Typical questions include: “How was your weekend?” “How are you doing?” or “What’s going on?” While there is nothing wrong with these questions, they are habitual questions that don’t demonstrate any real care in the other person.
Instead of these overused questions, ask “recall questions.” These are follow up questions that position your previous knowledge of the other person. They recall something you saw or heard in the past that was going on in their lives or careers. The difference would look like this:
“We didn’t catch up on Monday, how did your day go?”
Recall question demonstrating genuine curiosity:
“You mentioned your daughter started going back to in-person school on Monday after doing remote school for 8 months, how did she do?”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how much more powerful the recall question is over the habitual question. However, without paying attention to previous conversations, you have no way to create recall questions. It is impossible to truly listen to someone if your mind or heart is somewhere else. Anchor yourself into those interactions like the other person is the only person in the world.
It is impossible to truly listen to someone if your mind or heart is somewhere else.
If, for some reason, your attention is elsewhere at a particular moment, do the right thing and tell them, “I am in the middle of something, and I want to give you my undivided attention. Can we talk when I finish?”
Very few things in leadership are easy but showing people you care isn’t one of them. Try the “One Minute Rule” in every single interaction with your team. First, give them your undivided attention, then ask a recall question to demonstrate genuine curiosity. The best part, whether they ever tell you or not, deep down, they will know you care about them.
What are other ways you demonstrate you care that others could learn from?
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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.