As a manager, supervisor, or where ever you may be in your leadership journey, talent and people development will fall within the scope of your role to some degree. To my delight, I have found throughout my experience that many leaders have a genuine desire to help people grow through mentorship, coaching, and empowerment. These leaders, they go beyond the needs of the organization. They want to make a difference in people’s lives.
I distinctly recall a conversation I had with someone I considered my mentor at a previous job. She wasn’t my direct supervisor, but she was a natural when it came to coaching and all things people development. This conversation took place during a very unpredictable time in my career as I faced challenges I wasn’t sure were in the best interest of my career or my happiness. This woman, rather than try to force fit me into the company culture and its needs, telling me what I needed to do to fit in well, suggested that perhaps my values and the direction the firm was headed were no longer aligned – she was suggesting that it was time to move on. A hard pill to swallow indeed. Especially when you love your work. But that’s all I had: I loved the work I was doing, but other critical areas of work satisfaction were lacking in the most desperate ways.
People leaders differ from talent managers in that they prioritize and value people’s individual growth beyond the realm of organizational needs. But great people and organizational leaders are able to balance the two. How do they do this?
They take a more personable and intimate approach to building relationships with their team. But you wonder about the words “intimate” used in the same sentence as “employee” and “manager” and it makes you uncomfortable. It shouldn’t. Intimate doesn’t have to mean knowing about their love or sex life. An intimate relationship with your people is simply allowing vulnerability into the relationship. Offering an open, judgment-free space where they are allowed to be who they really are and dropping the mask they are accustomed to wearing at work every day. Asking them about their family, knowing when their dog is diagnosed with cancer and following that journey with questions like, “Hey, how’s Marley doing? How was his last vet visit?” This is how we connect with people.
We’re all too familiar with the phrase “tough love”. We use it when referring to child rearing, teaching, and believe me, your people will need some tough love if you want to see them thrive and bring forth their best. But sometimes the tough love they need is more like “truth that hurts”. Hard to swallow pills as I call them. Sometimes, it will be in the individual’s best interest to hear the raw truth in order to get them on the trajectory they’re best suited for. Whether it’s a similar scenario to my former mentor practically telling me “you should probably start looking for another job” or telling someone that based on their current performance they’re not on track to being promoted anytime soon. They need to know. The truth may hurt, but it will light a fire under them to start making some critical decisions. And they will thank you years later for lighting that fire.
As leaders, it can be challenging to see beyond the needs of the organization we serve. After all, they are the ones paying our salaries. At the end of the day, we feel this unspoken sense of duty to hire, train, and retain people with potential that are right for the company, and fire those falling short. But with a simple change of perspective, this task becomes easier. I’m not suggesting to lead with “Screw the company! People and their feelings first!” I am suggesting that it is possible to do both – minding the needs of the individual while also looking out for the company. One will inevitably feed into the other. If you are coaching a direct report who is struggling to meet job expectations, chances are that one of two things is happening: there is a mismatch in values, or a mismatch in the strengths they bring to the table versus what the organization needs. In instances like these, it is essential that the focus falls first on the individual. Focusing your attention on the person and tending to their needs first, will help you better understand and determine if what they need and can offer is in line with what the organization needs and can offer. But we must first be willing to give precedence to the person sitting in front of us for once, and not the company that pays our salary.
Did I really need to say it? You can’t do any of the above without empathy and care. It is at the core of human connection, good relationships, and unleashing the best in people. When we start to see ourselves in others and imagine the experience (the highs and the lows) they are going through, it makes our job as people developers that much easier. And that much more rewarding.