First, check your heart.
Employees need to know that you, as their boss, have their best interests at heart. In fact, whether they know they’re doing this or not, they are checking you out to determine whether or not this is true. If they determine (consciously or not) that you don’t really care about them as people, that you’re not interested in their success, their wellbeing, or their workplace morale (have we mentioned morale?), they will literally experience (again, conscious or not) fear. Why fear? Because you have power over them, and when someone is in relationship with someone else who has power over them AND that person believes that the more powerful person doesn’t really care about them…well, that’s (literally) scary.
What does this mean for us, behaviorally, as managers? First, check your heart. You don’t have to actually like someone personally to be able to care about them as a human being. Think about each of your employees as real people, with real lives filled with the same sorts of goals and disappointments and needs and fears as yours. Practice the internal qualities of empathy and compassion toward each of the people you supervise.
Second, communicate that you care by asking good questions and really truly listening. This means listening in such a way that the other person feels heard. What do they like about their job, and what not so much? What tasks are they not doing now that they would someday like to be doing? What are the roadblocks to success they face at work, and what do they need from you in the way of support, advocacy, encouragement, training or problem solving? How was their vacation, how are they doing after their recent loss, how many points did their daughter score last night in her varsity basketball game?
Third, show appreciation. A fellow consultant writes: “If I had to pick one thing that comes to me loud and clear it would be that organizations do a lousy job of recognizing people’s contributions. That is the number one thing employees say to us. ‘We don’t even care about the money. If my boss would just say thank you.’ ” [Catherine Meek, President, Meek and Associates]
And fourth, always, and I mean always, treat them with respect, the way you would like your boss to treat you.