Leaders: What Your Followers Are Afraid to Say

Published on January 31, 2014 by

When it comes to leadership, the higher you go, the more isolated and insulated you become from your followers. That means you're not likely to even know the one question that's on the mind of every one on your team or in your organization.

What question is that, you ask? It's this question:

"Why should I care about what you want...when I don't really believe you care about what I want?"

That's what every person who is on your team or in your company is afraid to ask out loud--at least in your presence. They're afraid because they've heard leaders say over and over again some form of "You should care about what I want because I control your paycheck."

Sometimes leaders and managers say that outright, but most often, it's said in more subtle ways. The result is your team members have quit asking the question that's most on their minds and hearts.

The most successful leaders are the ones who know that and who do something about it.

That means you have to know what your team really wants--not what you think they want. If you think you know what your team wants, how sure of that are you? Research tells us time and time again there is a disconnect between what leaders and managers think is important to their team and is really important to their team.

Finding out what your team wants isn't rocket science, but that doesn't mean it's easy. You can't just ask the question and expect to be enlightened. There has to be a dialogue and you have to ask questions (What do you want from me? From your work? From your team? From your life?) and then shut up.

You have to ask these questions more than once. Sometimes you have to ask them many times over the course of many months while you work on building trust.

Then you have to listen, listen more, and then listen even more. You have to set aside your assumptions, your biases and you have to set aside your defensiveness.

When you answer your employees burning question ("Why should I care...?") and show them how what you want will help them to get what they want, they will give you more than you could possibly imagine.

But first, you have to get them past their fear of asking their question, "Why should I care about what you want...when I don't really believe you care about what I want?"

 

6 Comments

  1. Dana

    From a leadership persceptive, this is key- "show them how what you want will help them to get what they want, and they will give you more than you could possibly imagine". A great leader leads by example. On the flip side, as an employee with a boss, this concept is also important to make sure you are being assertive with what it is you want, and providing ways in which your boss can help you get there. Great post for both sides of the coin!

    • Alan Allard

      Dana, thanks for your comments. You make a great point here: "On the flip side, as an employee with a boss, this concept is also important to make sure you are being assertive with what it is you want, and providing ways in which your boss can help you get there."

      For my readers, if you want to read an exceptional blog post on emotional intelligence, leadership, assertiveness (and more) at work, read Dana's blog post on a recent work experience she had: http://adventuresofapicunurse.blogspot.com/2014/01/have-you-examined-patient.html

  2. TJ

    Alan,

    What you described is a functional relationship. Relationships are only successful when all parties are engaged.

    It may be as simple as understanding how important family time is to an employee and then empowering their direct leaders to develop flexible arrangements.

    I also admit it's a struggle as you climb the ladder to remain engaged at the lower levels. However, it is a must.

    Any suggestions for leaders on how to do this?

    • Alan Allard

      Great question TJ. I don't think leaders struggle with the "how" of staying connected to those down the line--they struggle with the "why" of it. They don't see enough value in staying connected to do so. Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell soup walked the shop floor every day because he felt it was worth his time to do so.

  3. Dan Black

    To be successful at leading requires that our people know we care and value them. This takes time and effort on our part but is worth the investment. Great post!

    • Alan Allard

      I agree Dan, people want to know their leaders care about them and value them. Most leaders would say they care about their people and value them. The problem is, it doesn't matter how well a leader thinks they're doing in that department--it only matters what their people think.

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