I don’t always do it perfectly, or even very well. Every day I want to get better. But I am 100% convinced that being a successful manager, director, VP, or C-suite executive means putting people first. It means my direct reports are more important than my email. It means my team is more important than some project. It means helping another person in my organization be more successful in their career takes priority over another Zoom meeting with an eager salesperson. lt means that acknowledging a special event in someone’s life (a birthday, marriage, accomplishment) is more important than submitting my end of month financial paperwork on time. I must make people my priority.
I’m not saying that the other responsibilities of a manager can be ignored. But part of the skill set that needs to be developed by a successful people-leader is the skill to manage his/her time in such a way that allows people to be the priority. You need to guard your time from things that come to you with the label “urgent” but in reality are unimportant to the long-term success of your organization. This means we need to learn to delegate some things that hinder us from spending enough time invested into our people and teams. This may mean you have to stop micromanaging things and start trusting that people will do them well so that you can focus more on developing your staff.
How can you actually start doing this if you suspect you have been far too focused on tasks and projects, and far too little on your people?
Here are a Few Tips to Get Started
First, start meeting regularly one-on-one (O3’s as I call them) with your direct reports. A simple 30-minute weekly (or bi-weekly) meeting to check in and see how they are doing with their workload, their career, their family, their goals within your organization…will go a long way into creating a culture of caring for others. Dare to ask them some questions that you might be afraid to ask. For example, “What isn’t going so well right now at work, that needs to change?” Or even better, “How can I better support you in your role and career?” But mostly, in my opinion, the O3 is a time for them to share what is on their mind.
Second, respect your direct reports by not routinely going past them to meet with THEIR direct reports. Do you manage people who manage other people? Leave them to manage their own team. Respect the organizational structure. I’m not suggesting you don’t talk to their direct reports. You should. And you should encourage, compliment, and congratulate widely and deeply in your institution. But it tends to communicate that you don’t trust your manager if you are regularly meeting with his/her direct reports with an agenda of your own. Most of your work should be accomplished through those individuals who directly report to you.
Third, do look for opportunities to give shout-outs to people on your teams and beyond your team. Here is where you should cast a wide net. Has someone a couple levels down from you done a remarkable job? Tell them you noticed! Do you ever ask the people who report to you “who has been a superstar lately that I can reach out to and thank?” Do you ever say to YOUR boss that one of your direct reports is just knocking it out of the park, giving them the opportunity to reach out and appreciate them? Some bosses are way too insecure to tell their boss about a star on their team. They are afraid it might take some of the glory away from themselves. That is just sad, but I know it is far too often true. I have worked in organizations where nobody above my immediate boss had any clue what I was doing, in spite of producing phenomenal results year over year. This is an organizational and cultural problem, and needs to be addressed, but sometimes it is the highest leadership that is primary problem.
My last thought for today on this topic is to remember to play the long game here. You can’t gain a reputation as a great people-leader overnight. Start doing some of the little things and make them a habit. Spend a little less time in your office, and a little more time interacting with staff. Don’t expect a harvest the day after you start planting seeds. Keep watering. Keep weeding. Give it time. But make people your priority, and I guarantee you the results will surely follow.