When I started a business of subcontracting professional writers and trainers, I was known for checking in with people regularly, handing out paychecks personally, and dropping chocolates off on people’s desks before they got in. I didn’t have extra time to spend chatting, but I used my time very well.
I’m currently working with a client rolling out a very complex system. Playing an advisory role on the project, I keep an ear to the ground to evaluate uptake and determine where problems are arising. Rebecca was having a really tough time. Both she and her manager reached out to me for extra help after completing the training. Over a period of weeks, working with our support team, Rebecca’s skills improved. Despite frustration, she stuck with it.
Monitoring the exchange between Rebecca and our support team, when she completed a major milestone in her learning, I sent her a personal note and copied her supervisor:
“Rebecca, I know this has been a challenging, and at times frustrating process to learn the new system. But I’m very impressed with your determination, and just how far you’ve come! Congratulations on making a huge stride forward!”
Rebecca was absolutely delighted! Here’s another from the same week:
“Bonjour Michelle, I wanted to tell you how pleased I am with your translation work. Not only translating the words, but finding and linking to our French job aids, AND telling me where we may have gaps in our instructions. Merci Beaucoup!”
Response: “Wow! Thank you so much for the kind words! I really appreciate it! This made my day (seriously!)!”
Notes like these take minutes to write. The impact lasts much longer. I don’t expect anything in return, but I know I’ve helped build allies and champions. Sometimes I follow up and ask them to describe their success so I can share it with others.
Leader time and presence is capital to be expended generously and strategically. Employees don’t expect to hear from their leaders all the time, but we all respond positively to a word of thanks and encouragement at the right time. When I work with executives we discuss how best to apply leader capital:
- Where is the greatest motivational need right now?
- When will leader presence be most beneficial as an endorsement of what is happening?
- Where is there ‘flight risk’ or possibility of feeling abandoned at work?
- Who are the stars that could burn even brighter?
I’ve asked leaders to join conference calls, sit in on training, and observe system testing when I knew their presence would make the biggest impact. Recently I had a CFO meet each member of a team who had been pulling long hours for weeks. He took time to ask questions about what they were doing, shake hands and thank them for their efforts. More impactful than a team lunch? I think so.
Changing Your Mind
Great leaders actively manage their use of time and energy. They are resources to be used, but also to be invested in others.
Who have you taken the time to follow-up with or thank lately? Take 5 minutes now and make an investment in someone else’s motivation and growth. Handwritten notes, well written emails and handshakes are smart investments for the savvy leader. Those who excel make a habit of using them well.