QUESTION: “I’ve just started to manage a new department and I don’t know how to communicate with my more experienced subordinates. Some of them have worked for this department for more than 5 years and they know much more than me. It’s not that they make light of me, or put me down or anything, but I’m very worried about what they think of me. What can I do?”
ANSWER: Congratulations on your new management role! I’m glad to hear that you’re concerned about what your subordinates think of you. Earning the trust and respect of your people should be among your highest priorities, and it sounds like it is.
Listen first. In my opinion the single best way to communicate with people is by listening to them. Instead of focusing on impressing your subordinates with your knowledge and experience, be curious about their wisdom, perspectives and insights. Since your employees have a great deal more experience than you do working in this department it is even more critical that you seek their guidance. Listen with great interest to what they say, as if their words contain the seeds of your own success, as they surely do.
Listen generously. You may be surprised at how generously listening to people transforms your relationship with them. Most conversations are like two televisions facing one another – both people are talking, but neither one is listening – so when someone really listens it makes a strong positive impact on the person who is talking. Generous listening demonstrates that you care, builds trust, and increases the confidence of the other person. This makes it more likely that they will share their ideas and opinions openly with you in the future.
Hold weekly one-on-one meetings. Schedule weekly face-to-face meetings with each of your subordinates. Make it clear that this is their time to use as they wish, not yours. Encourage them to speak openly with you about anything that’s on their mind. Ask them to share their perspectives on the performance of the team and make suggestions for improvements. Some useful questions to initiate these conversations are “What’s working well?”, “What’s not working well?” and “What’s missing that could help us?” One particularly magical question is “If anything were possible, what would you instantly change that would dramatically improve our team’s performance?”
Socialize one-on-one after work. Invite your team members out individually for a casual discussion over a beer in the evening. Ask for their feedback on your leadership effectiveness. While they may hesitate to make negative comments, one way to encourage honesty is to ask “If you were determined to help me increase my effectiveness in leading this team, what advice would you give me?”
Hold weekly team meetings. This is a much better way than email to share information critical to your business. But don’t limit these meetings to one-way broadcasts of information. Facilitate open discussions of issues of importance to your department and your business in general. Clarify your department’s purpose, goals and priorities. Discuss how to exceed the expectations of your most important stakeholders.
Clarify your expectations. You are the boss – the person in the position of power – so your employees are naturally wondering what you think about them. Make sure you regularly share your expectations of them as well as express your appreciation for their contributions to the team’s success.
As smart as you are, unless you’re a Steve Jobs clone, you’re probably not smarter than your entire team. Put aside your own anxiety and focus on building the confidence of your people and the strength of your team. Provide the resources they need to be successful, remove obstacles and irritations, reward great performance, and correct off-track situations promptly and tactfully. This approach to leadership will win you the admiration of your team.by