Wouldn’t you love to get inside the mind of your leaders to know what they’re thinking? You know what you think about them, but what are they thinking about you? What are they thinking about your organization?
Are they fulfilled in their current role or are they secretly thinking about quitting? Do they feel sure about their work or are they increasingly losing confidence in their role? Do they feel you’ve adequately prepared and resourced them or are they resentful that they’re ill-equipped?
It’s important to know what your leaders are thinking because what they’re thinking determines if they are highly engaged or progressively disengaging from the mission of your organization.
So what’s the secret to knowing what their thinking? Ask them.
Let me give you two ways you can ask: First you can ask in a conversation.
Ask someone to name their weaknesses, and they fire off a laundry list of shortcomings without hesitation. But ask what they’re good at, and many tend to struggle for an answer. People struggle to identify their strengths for two reasons:
1. They’re embarrassed. Insecurities can keep us from admitting when we’re good at something.
2. They don’t recognize it as a strength. It’s easy for to see others strengths, but it’s not always easy to see our own.Sometimes we’re good at something naturally and for that reason we’re unaware that they are good at it. A few months ago a friend mentioned a strength he had observed in my leadership. It caught me off guard because it was a behavior I knew it was something I did, but never considered to be a strength. Because he pointed it out, I now try to develop and practice this more intentionally.
It’s tempting when doing leadership development to identify weakness and try to help them grow from a three to and eight. But your time will be much better invested if you help the leader develop his or her strengths.
Try this exercise next time you meet with one of your staff members or someone you’re developing. Ask the following questions:
- Name 5 to 7 projects or goals you’ve been working on for the past four weeks. Write a list on the whiteboard.
- Where have you felt surges of energy during the past four weeks? What were you doing when you felt it?
- What fruit or results have you seen in the past four weeks? What are the specific things you did to contribute to that outcome?
- To what do you attribute those results, be specific? What response have you seen from others as you did this work?
- Reverse engineer what you did well. Think about what you did well and why. Write down the skills you used to accomplish those things.
- What do you learn about your strengths from these observations?
- What are two or three things that you can put into practice over the next 30 days to sharpen that strength?
When you take someone through this process, there are three outcomes.
- They will develop their strengths
- They will begin to use the strengths with more intentionality.
- It will increase their ability to develop others in that particular strength area.
I’m an empowering style of leader. I believe in people, get agreement with them on their goals, meet with them regularly to discuss progress and do my best not to micromanage them. But lately I’ve been questioning, “Am I under managing those I lead?” Sometimes I empower people so much that I’m not close enough to observe and give feedback on their performance. One thing I have learned about management is – closeness matters. A higher degree of proximity gives greater opportunity to observe and provide honest performance feedback. To help with my own leadership in this area I developed seven question assessment. Here’s how it works.
- Write down the name of one of the people who report directly to you.
- Answer each question below by marking it with a Yes or No.
- Add up your score and see how you did.
- Finally write out what next steps you feel you need to take to improve your managment of that individual.
Okay, now take 5 minutes and give it a try.
EMPLOYEE NAME: ___________________________
- Am I close enough to observe and offer specific praise on his/her most recent work?
- Am I close enough to observe and offer a specific push in an area where he/she needs performance improvement?
- Am I close enough to know the latest personal highlights of his/her life?
- Am I close enough to assess his/her level of morale and work engagement?
- Am I close enough to know the health of his/her soul?
- Am I close enough that I provide needed coaching on his/her goals?
- Am I close enough that he/she and I feel a bond of trust?
MY SCORE: _______
6-7 Yes = You are doing a great job managing your direct reports. Consider ways you can now begin to teach them your guiding managment principles so they can become great managers.
4-5 Yes = You are under managing in some areas and need to draw closer to this individual. Identify the areas you marked No and develop your next step improvement plan.
0-4 Yes = You are under managing and need to get more engaged with your direct report. Identify the top 2 areas that would make the biggest difference and begin taking steps this week for improvement. You may need to let them know what you are doing so they won’t be shocked when you begin to engage them at a higher level.
MY NEXT STEPS IMPROVEMENT PLAN
Today’s Leadership Challenge: Use this tool to assess how you are doing with each of your direct reports and write out your next steps improvment plan, then reassess yourself in 3o days.
When I was a church planter back in 1997 I gathered a team of seven leaders around me to oversee the seven key ministries of our church. I knew that it was important to meet with these leaders as a group on a consistent basis. But I also knew that consistent one on ones are essential for good performance management. So I scheduled myself to meet with some of them each week, some every two weeks and others just once a month. The problem was, while I knew it was important to do these one on ones, I had no idea what to do when I was meeting with these individual leaders.
I consistently found myself driving to these meetings with a feeling of dread and guilt. Dread because I didn’t know what to talk to them about and guilt because I felt I was going to waste their time. So on my way to meet them I would always scratch out an agenda to discuss with them. Over time I began to recognize a pattern in this agenda and I stumbled upon something that really worked. I still use this agenda pattern for my one on ones to this day. So if you know you should do one on ones with your direct reports but are unsure what to do, give this 5 P agenda a try this week.
- Personal – I like to start my one on ones by asking about the individual and how they are doing personally. I may ask about their family, spiritual health or a circumstance I know they are going through personally. But this is my opportunity to connect with them and also to care for their soul.
- Priorities – I have each of my direct reports write up to five goals each semester. So when we meet one on one (usually every two weeks) we talk about those priority goals and how things are going. This allows me to hear about progress or challenges they’re facing and gives me the opportunity to coach them on their top priorities.
- Problems – I always like to ask, are there any problems you are facing that I can help you with? Just in case they are working on something that is outside of their priority goals this gives them the opportunity to talk about other issues they may be facing that I can help with. It may be an issue with another employee, a challenge with another department or even a problem they are having with my leadership. This helps me keep a finger on the pulse of their spirit or morale.
- Plan – This part only takes a couple of minutes. You simply a restate anything you or your direct report committed to do as follow up to the one on one. I would recommend putting a due date on the actions agreed upon. ( I always forget this part and it gets me I trouble all the time)
- Prayer – End your one on one by asking how you can pray for your direct report, then pray specifically for their needs. This once again allows you to practice soul care for this individual.
Today’s Personal Leadership Challenge: Schedule a one on one with each of your direct reports at least every other week for three months and follow the 5 P agenda.