Leading in 2017 is Enhanced by Listening

Over the last week, I have had numerous conversations about leadership and managing teams. Two conversations stuck out more than most. The first was with a newly minted manager, who indicated that he had been perfectly happy as a great team player, and was honestly surprised by the promotion. The second conversation was with someone who was frustrated at the lack of promotion to a management role after a number of years.

After these conversations, I had a moment of clarity. We, as leaders, in our organization have to do a better job of listening to our employees and let them have more control over their work life.

What does this mean? It means that for some of us who identify the “mini-me” most like us and decide they are promotional material we should probably stop. It means that if someone has been at the company for a “long” time we should not feel the need to promote them out of obligation. It means that if there is a young rock star who we feel hasn’t “earned” a management role we should take a step back and evaluate that person on their merits and not their youth.

This will be a hard task for many people in leadership at organizations because it’s a skill that many organizations have never stretched. By forcing people into management roles or overlooking others, you are setting the entire organization up to fail.

Here are some statements I’ve heard over the last week:

  • “I am the first in and the last out. I take on more projects. I started mentoring coworkers. Why won’t they consider me for a promotion?”
  • “Now that I’ve been promoted. I have to do my job and also somehow manage to train others to be better at their job. I don’t think I have the energy for this.”

At the end of both conversations, the exact same end statement was said “I may have to look for something else.” Let’s take that in for a minute, two separate people whose managers would probably say they are key team players are ready to leave their organizations. Their frustration, after a lot of great conversation, stemmed from the basic idea that they felt like no one was listening to their needs and wants. As leaders, we have to take a step back and stop prescribing career paths to team members and instead partner with team members on how we can create a path that mirrors success for their individual circumstances.

Imagine, if the newly minted manager’s manager had talked to him and found out that his son has been pretty sick, so he really wants to come in to work and leave at a decent hour. Or if the manager of the young woman hungry for an opportunity had asked about her motivation and found out that she had been told for years that she would never succeed and ultimately wants the title to prove that she is a worthwhile person. When listening to employees, we can truly determine what drives them and retain the best talent.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn.

This is the second post in a series: The first is Being a leader in 2017 begins with Empathy.

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