As I listened to a good friend and mentor, Jon Harrison, discuss his leadership tips last week, one thing I noticed that he does is put in the time to lead. He gives people the gift of his time. It is way too common in our businesses for leaders to say I am too busy to make time for the front line people, or get to know Joe in the basement working on the system that keeps our facility heated and cooled. But the message that this can send to those front line people is, I am too important to care about little old you. By not spending time with these people we are saying your job is not significant enough for me to get to know you as a person, what you need to do your job well or how I can support you, until something goes wrong, you mess up or I need you. Then I can yell at you without even knowing your name. This may sound like an exaggeration, but I promise you it happens every day across industries.
What the best leaders know is that giving the gift of your time, even looking at it as an investment, will pay dividends on the back end. Taking the time to really learn what all the job functions are in your organization and listening to what people need from you to do these jobs well pays off in employee engagement and productivity. More importantly getting to know them as people, as mothers and fathers and golfers and artists outside of work, will create relationships that develop a loyalty that cannot be bought by an extra dollar an hour by the competition. It's also just the right thing to do!
On some level we all know this is true, but back to the original I don't have time excuse...my response is make time! Build it into your calendar, daily, weekly, whatever that looks like. Schedule a block of walking around time getting to know people at all levels. Build in weekly face to face, one on one time with direct reports to find out what they need from you to do their best, whether it is resources and support in doing their work or how to best lead them and communicate with them. One thing Jon did that showed his 700 employees he cared about them was take the time to write a personalized birthday card to each and every one of them. In order to make it personal, he had to know who they were to begin with. I worked for James Lee Witt for a number of years and his open door policy, was the real deal, he was transparent and available to all of us at our small firm, but also when he was director of FEMA he had a full day each week when anyone at any level could come talk to him about anything.
What about you? What do you do to give the gift of your time to people? How do you invest in the lives of those you lead? You could lead a small team, a huge organization, a family or just yourself. Please share your tips and insights in the comments. Also, if you want to learn more from Jon Harrison on this, you can download his book, The Front Line Factor, in iTunes.
P.S. I don't only read books by guys named Jon, with no 'h', just happens the last two posts mentioned the two I do! ;)