The words we use with our people will leave a lasting impact. This will always be true for leaders and there is no way around it. When we use critical, demeaning, or harsh words we leave “scar tissue” and it may never go away. This scar tissue often takes the shape of guilt, fear, or inadequacy and will often move with people when they jump to another company.
An organization striving for agility cannot be truly agile with a fearful workforce. Period.
As this interview in the New Times states, “…the brain categorizes everything into one of two categories: threat or reward. We’re driven unconsciously to stay away from threat. We’re driven unconsciously to go toward reward.” The entire article is worth reading if you get the chance.
When people feel threatened, they will turn from you. They will become defensive at best and at worst, they will disconnect fully.
Now, this does not mean we accept poor performance, ignore bad team members, or avoid opportunities to teach or mentor. In fact, it should be the opposite. If we use the right words we will inspire people to expand their own expectations of themselves and dream big dreams. They will become self-motivated to live up to their own expectations – and not yours.
When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’ – Lao-Tsu
Your entire view of leadership will change when you replace your own expectations for people with a focus on making personal connection and instilling confidence. It did for me.
Begin making personal connection with your people today by considering a few actions:
Become self-aware. The first step is recognizing your mindset must shift. You, dear leader, are the one who must change – no one else.
Love. Do we dare say this word within the walls of business. My friend Si Alhir has written a short but engaging post based on Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love. You may say “Some people are impossible to love!” If you remove your own expectations, are they really?
Connect. Know everything to know about the people who report to you. Birthdays, anniversaries, spouse’s name, kid’s name, dog’s name, everything. Condemnation becomes much harder when you recognize others are human just like you and dealing with the same stuff life is throwing at you.
Heal. It is a rare occurrence when a leader apologizes to a direct report but when it does something magical happens. This is hard to do but for the restoration of trust and connection to develop, genuine forgiveness may be necessary.