An organization’s many stakeholders value strong decisive leadership.  We see the decisive leader as someone who gets things done and makes things happen. However, there are times when there is a disconnect between the leader and the team they are leading.   The leader feels they are being clear in the direction and that everyone is proceeding forward toward the same goal.  In reality, the team is perplexed and uncertain as to what is actually going on.

Unrest is building and less and less is getting accomplished.  Rumors are swirling, people are moving toward a duck and cover approach.

I’ve seen this situation more times than I can count, and it isn’t a matter of intention.

The leader is usually a high performing individual with great intentions for turning the organization around, or driving a big market change, or growing the business toward a big exit for everyone.   It isn’t a matter of caring, the leader usually is a compassionate person who wants their team to be successful along with the organization’s success.  The most common root cause for this situation is just a simple disconnect.

The leader hasn’t read the room or take the time to slow down and truly connect with his/her team’s perspectives.

Connecting with your team takes more than just a “how are you doing?” in the hallway or in a team meeting.

It is often a matter of asking the right questions at the right time or digging deeper than what the team member initially offers.   There are so many questions a leader could ask, and each leader will have a different style, but I’ll offer a few that could be a starting place to open conversations around commitment specifics:

  • We just completed our strategic review with the board, what do you feel went well? Not so well?
  • How are you feeling about you and your departments’ ability and commitment to deliver? What specifically are you seeing from your team that indicates their commitment?
  • What do you think is the most likely obstacle to accomplishing our goals?
  • What would you feel is the right approach if you lead this group with these goals?
  • What successes do you see for yourself when we make this plan happen?
  • How do these successes align with your personal goals for your career?

Note that these are not soft questions, but ones that will drive deeper conversations around commitment, approach, and obstacles.

An often-used excuse (yes, an excuse even if it is not in a leader’s conscious perspective) is we have so much to do and I didn’t or do not have time on these conversations.  This is sometimes followed up with this is their job or they are onboard, so it isn’t necessary.   When was the last time you the leader fully committed to something just because you were told to do it?  What do you experience when you are told or even asked without input to do something? IF you did do it, how enthusiastic were you?

How much of your energy did you commit to this task, project or goal when you were told to do it?

Feelings provide the basis for human reason.

In other words, our decisions and commitment to them are based on emotions not logic.  Logic still plays in but emotions have a more powerful impact on our decisions and commitment to them.   “A few years ago, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio made a groundbreaking discovery. He studied people with damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated. He found that they seemed normal, except that they were not able to feel emotions. But they all had something peculiar in common: they couldn’t make decisions. They could describe what they should be doing in logical terms, yet they found it very difficult to make even simple decisions, such as what to eat.”  If we want people to commit to good decisions, we need to acknowledge and appeal to their emotions not just the logic. What emotions do you think are triggered when someone is asked the questions above?   Do they feel valued or taken for granted?  Do they feel understood or unacknowledged?   What emotions when triggered could make them more committed vs neutral or a disrupter of the future plans?

Emotions lead to connection of your team to you and your plans.

Emotions have physiological responses (stomach lurches or heart rate speeds up) and behavioral responses (body language).

We as leaders need to be aware of these responses to emotion in others and explore how these will generate energy for a cause or goal, will motivate us to want to do something good as part of the team, will make us feel part of the team and most importantly have those we lead commit to a plan.  Emotions can lead to good decisions with impactful outcomes.

As for taking the time to have these conversations, can you afford not to take the time?  When the boat starts to take on water, it is very difficult to bail enough water while fixing the leak and still finish your trip when you expected.  It might be a 30-minute conversation today that isn’t planned on your schedule, but you will most likely save yourself a lot of bailing and fixing because you discovered the leak early.

Gail Froelicher

Gail A. Froelicher, CEO and Founder of Kinetic Insights, is an experienced executive with a proven and consistent record of success in emerging technology businesses. Throughout her 30 year career she has been successful in key leadership positions by motivating and developing teams that stress quality, integrity and respect for associates and business partners. View full bio
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