Longtime fundraising executive Shanna A. Hocking remembers walking into her first managerial role with a very specific view of leadership.
“When I started being a boss, I thought that if I was efficient, got stuff done and let my staff do their own thing, it would be the best way to manage a team," says Hocking, associate vice president, individual giving at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and frequent speaker on leadership and career development. “What I didn't realize was that my staff members looked at my behavior and didn't think I cared about them. I learned quickly that the way I could show I cared was to understand who they were as people, not just who they were as my employees."
Hocking's realization is something many managers are facing in today's workplace. Gone are the days of punitive, out-of-touch leadership styles. More and more, leaders are expected to be emotionally intelligent, exhibit active listening and regularly make themselves available for conversations with employees from all levels.
Scott Crabtree has seen this shift in leadership first-hand. Based in Portland, Ore., he left his job at a technology company in 2012 to found Happy Brain Science, a company that uses the latest neuroscience and psychology research to help teams feel happier at work, and therefore experience increased productivity.
“When I founded Happy Brain Science, I was met with skepticism and people would ask me why I cared about happiness at work," he remembers. “But now, less than seven years later, we are seeing happiness being spoken and written about all over the place [...]. I've seen a dramatic shift from that skepticism outside a few forward-thinking leaders to now, where it is rare when I speak with a leader who is skeptical of 'soft topics' like happiness."
Are you a leader interested in attracting talent with your emotionally intelligent leadership style, but aren't sure where to start?
Here are some ideas:
Initiate 'Stay Conversations'
In his 2018 commencement speech at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner spoke about the importance of compassion in leadership, saying, "Managing compassionately is not just a better way to build a team, it's a better way to build a company."
Hocking finds inspiration from Weiner's words, and exhibits compassion for her team by holding what she calls 'stay conversations.' These are one-on-one discussions with each member of her team where she asks what motivates them, why they chose the job, how they like to be recognized and any feedback they have for her. Interestingly, she doesn't wait to hold these talks.
“If someone is ready to quit, it is too late," she says. “I like to have these conversations during a person's first week on the job. It sends a powerful message—a message that says I want them to thrive and stay in our organization. I also recommend leaders do this a few times per year as time goes on."
Former teacher Zoe Share founded social media strategy firm Schmooz Media in Toronto five years ago with the intention of using the leadership skills she used in the classroom as a template for how to treat her employees (starting with touching base with her employees regularly, just like her students).
“I try to meet with each member of my team individually for 10 to 20 minutes, per week," she says. “I'll give them a guideline prompt like, 'What have been your challenges and victories in the past week?' But if those don't get the conversation going, I'll often just sit with them in silence and ask, 'What would you like to talk about with me?' These meetings are really helpful because they give me a pulse on the company, and help me make sure each person is doing the right tasks at the right time."
There is solid data that people who treat others as human beings get better results.
—Scott Crabtree, founder, Happy Brain Science
To help camaraderie among team members, Share instituted what she calls 'donut meetings,' where twice per month employees will get an email pairing them with another staffer (often from a different department). In the email, each person will get a few trivia questions/conversation prompts and then get assigned a time to go get donuts (or another snack) together.
“These meetings don't need to be work related; they are really about people getting to know each other better and hopefully feel happier at work," Share says.
Give Specific Acknowledgements
While expressing gratitude is always appreciated (and necessary) for employee satisfaction, Hocking recommends leaders be specific when acknowledging accomplishments.
“If you say something like, 'Thanks, you saved the day yesterday,' it is pretty vague," she says. “Instead, if you say, 'Your proactive nature of jumping in when things were on fire saved the day for the entire team,' it makes a much bigger impact and is more powerful. Try to be specific and name their strengths, how they helped your organization and what—exactly—they did well."
Crabtree finds truth in former PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico's famous quote, "The soft stuff is always harder than the hard stuff."
“Almost anyone in business would happily tackle 10 business problems before one human problem," Crabtree says. “I see this in tech all the time. Tech issues are logical; people are illogical and it is hard to deal with illogical things."
To handle the so-called 'soft stuff' effectively, Crabtree recommends being human with employees and realizing that people bring their whole selves to work, not just their 'employee personas.'
“There is solid data that people who treat others as human beings get better results," he says. “That means better employee engagement and better psychological safety at the office. The best place to start in all of this is to simply be human. Be real."
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