When speaking or facilitating leadership programs, I often ask this question: “Does your spouse, significant other, family, or friends know your boss by name?” Typically, every hand in the room goes up. I don’t have to ask why – the boss is a common topic of conversation at home or at the bar after work. Then I ask: “What are those conversations like? Do they feature what the boss is doing for you – or to you?”
After some nervous laughter from the audience, I ask: “So, do you think the spouse, significant other, family, or friends of your direct reports know your name? What do you suppose those conversations are like?” That usually stops people in their tracks, and you can almost see the gears spinning in their heads. Many participants tell me that they haven’t actually thought of this scenario before!
Here’s what I tell managers, at all levels: If you lead others, I guarantee that you’re a topic of conversation around the dinner table – probably in several households at once. How do you want those conversations to go? Do you want them to represent you as someone they admire and love working for, or do you want them to talk about you in a way that isn’t so flattering (or worse?). We can’t dictate every impression or emotion that our direct reports have about us, but we can take steps to create the kind of relationships that garner the benefit of the doubt – and it starts with taking a genuine interest in your workers as people.
In my experience, there are 5 things that every leader should know about their people:
1) Where (and how) did they grow up? Most people like to tell their personal history – where they were born, how they grew up, what their parents did, etc. Take an interest in their backgrounds – not only is it respectful, but you might learn something useful in terms of managing them.
2) What are their hobbies? What do they like to do when they’re not working? Knowing a little about what gives them joy outside of work helps you relate to them more effectively. You might be able to draw a connection from a work project back to something they care deeply about in their personal lives.
3) Who’s the most important person in their life? Find out who that is, and learn their name(s). If they have children, learn their names (yes, all of them – you can do it).
4) What are they passionate about? What really motivates your people? Some people really love sports, or politics, or volunteering in their communities. You can learn a lot about people if you know what really turns them on.
5) What do they want to do with the rest of their life? There are countless insights here – including whether you can help them make their dreams come true. What if you learned that someone always wanted to live abroad – and you had the ability to make that happen with a transfer or job rotation?
If you make a sincere effort to learn these 5 things about each person that reports to you, I honestly believe it will make you a better manager. Think of any boss you’ve ever had – didn’t you enjoy working for those who took a genuine interest in you as a person? If you take the time to ask these 5 questions, I think you stand a better chance of being represented in a positive light when the conversation gets around to you – because there’s no question that it will, one way or another!
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