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The “Why” of Leadership: Making Your Intentions Clear


By Kelly Vandever

The “Angst at Work” Conversation

I was sitting around with some friends who were talking about things that were being required of them at work. Not the jobs themselves. But what was being required above and beyond their day to day work.

“I gotta do these health-related things.”

“I have to go sit with people from other departments.”

“I have to track my weekly objectives on a spreadsheet.”

After much comment and angst it came down to:

“Why can’t they just let me do my job?!”

“Why are they doing all this?!”

It was at this point that I sheepishly said, “I have some ideas…”

They all know about the interviews I conduct for my Permission to Speak podcast.

“Let’s hear it Kelly! What are they thinking?!”

I felt a little like the spokesperson for all managers everywhere as I explained that there’s a lot of research that says if employees are healthy they have less absenteeism and are more productive.

And if employees make connections with others in the organization, they can better understand how their work impacts others and vice versa, which makes employees more likely to be helpful to one another and thus be more productive.

I talked about the move away from annual performance reviews because a great number of managers don’t provide feedback more frequently than annually. Organizations are now moving to more frequent check-ins which leads to better productivity. (The Future of Work Podcast has several interviews with executives from Fortune 500 companies who describe how they are eliminating annual reviews and provide clarification on how they are now providing goals and feedback.)

(I also happened to mention that to a certain degree more frequent feedback was being driven by the increase of millennials in the workplace which led to a few disparaging words about hand-holding and millennials.)

From there the conversation morphed into frustrations with managers following the flavor-of-the-month management approach and managers looking for easy fixes without using common sense.

There was a lot of stress and anxiety around these work-related topics. No lie. I was relieved when we finally moved away to non-work subjects!

Initiatives Are about More than Just Productivity

Reflecting on the conversation the following day, I realized there was an important point I’d failed to mention. So I sent my friends a follow up email.

In the email I mentioned that while I pointed out that  the leaders were doing these initiatives because of the links to productivity, what I failed to mention is that lots of leaders are also doing them because they want to be a good person and a better leader.

For years in corporate America, we’ve been pressed toward profit, providing shareholder value, and living up to Wall Street expectations which lead to ignoring our consciences because business is business.

But now we’re seeing evidence that the pure focus on profit while ignoring people doesn’t just make us feel crappy but it’s actually BAD business.

So now leaders are doing what they always wanted to do but thought they weren’t supposed to. In other words, it’s not every leader who is just looking for an easy fix. Sometimes they really are trying to be better people and better leaders. But since no one’s perfect, it doesn’t always come across that way.

How a Leader’s Intent Can Make the Difference

What can make a difference in trying to improve as a leader and as a person is to share your intent with those you lead.

Tell them, “Here’s what I’m trying to do and why I’m doing it. I believe these changes will improve productivity but more than that, I think it will make a better place to work. I want to work in a place where I look forward to coming to work. I want that for you too. I’m asking you to come alongside me. Help me as I work to be a better leader and make this a better place to work. Please join me in these efforts.”

If you mean it, your employees will sense it and they will more likely be patient, cut you some slack and come alongside to help you accomplish your aim.

Want to Make It Even Better? Ask for and Listen to Input.

Stories abound from leaders who sought and listened to input from their teams and were astonished at the results. I shared one of my own examples in an earlier post.

Before you implement new initiatives that research shows will bring you better results, seek input from those in your organization who’ll be impacted.

I have a theory. (If anyone out there has evidence to support this theory, I’d love to talk to you.)

My theory is that someone somewhere studied the people who had the best customer service ratings within call centers. In order to increase customer satisfaction at all call centers, they developed a script of what the best reps did and said and thought they could get the same wonderful results.

When was the last time you phoned into a call center, had someone read a script to you, and you felt like you got great customer service? Never. Right? You NEVER feel like you get great customer service from a script! NEVER!

If instead of reading scripts, you look at the human intent of what the best call center workers do, you’d see that they give genuine empathy. “Sorry you’re having this problem. Let’s get it fixed for you.” “Let me make sure I understand the issue. You’re saying…”

Same thing applies with initiatives that leaders try to implement into an organization. It’s not enough to say implement XYZ and it will improve productivity. You can’t follow a script and get favorable results.

You have to explain the intent. But also, you will get better results if you ask and listen to your staff.

I have to believe that call center people reading the script absolutely know that we don’t believe them when they say, “I’m so sorry you’re having this issue.” We know darn well that they’re reading a script because they’ve been told they have to follow this formula because it’s been proven to work. Well it was proven to work because great call center workers really meant what they said. They weren’t being scripted. They were being sincere.

So if you want the initiatives to work…

Explain Your Intent

Tell folks what you’re trying to do and why you’re trying to do it.

Ask for Their Input

Ask how it makes sense for us to do it here, in our organization, with our workload.

Listen to What They Have to Say & Incorporate the Feedback

Their input may confirm that you’re on the right path or they may tell you that you’re off base.

If they say you’re off base, listen to them. Address their concerns. Understand where they’re coming from. Then flex as needed. Maybe you still proceed with the idea but approach it differently based on the feedback. Maybe you need to ask more questions to understand the employees’ intent in their feedback. Don’t just ask, but listen and pay attention to what your employees have to say.

The Angst of Leadership and Work

We’re all human. We’re never going to get our leadership approaches and work environments perfect.

But the more we share our intentions and the more we seek to listen to and understand each other, the more likely we are to be the people we want to be and have the kind of organizations where people want to work.

Kelly Vandever is a leadership and communications expert who helps leaders and organizations thrive in today’s attention-deficit, entertain-me-now, wait-while-I-post-that-on-Facebook world. Learn how opening up and speaking practically can bring you better business results. Connect Kelly by phone at 770-597-1108, email her at Kelly.Vandever @ SpeakingPractically.com or tweet her @KellyVandever.