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Simplify Leadership: Observe

Last week, I introduced a stripped down, common-sense approach to leadership: the Simplify Leadership model. No frills, no unnecessary hoops, just focusing on the simple steps that will get you the most impact with your teams. I started with a high-level introduction to these steps, just to get us familiar with the big picture. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be unpacking this model in greater detail, and really digging into each step.

So today, I'm starting us off with a discussion of Step 1: Observe.

Have you ever had a manager who stayed holed up in his or her office all day? Who only came around to reprimand someone? Someone who took the credit for all of the hard work, but never seemed to do any of it themselves? Yeah, me too. I think all of us have had at least one like that.

So do me a favor, take a moment and picture that person in your mind. What emotions comes to mind? Frustration? Isolation? Abandonment? Probably all those and more. When a manager isn't present among their team, it's a huge demotivator. The main push-back I usually get when I try to communicate this to managers is "But I'm so busy!" Yeah, so is everyone else. I've yet to meet a manager who doesn't have a work list that requires more hours to complete than he or she has in the work day. That's the way it goes. Don't like it? Then don't be a manager.

At the end of the day, it comes down to priorities. Which do you put a greater price tag on, the work or your people? And here's a hint, you don't get to answer this question. The answer will be evident by your actions. Even if you truly value your employees in your heart, that's not the answer they'll believe if they go days on end without seeing you. Get out of your office and engage with your people.

Once you've successfully extricated yourself from your office, Step 1 can truly begin. Being present is only half the battle, you also need to be observant. Just like your employees don't want absentee managers, they REALLY don't want phony, talking-head managers who walk around acting like they know or care about their employees, but clearly don't. Don't be that guy or girl. If you manage like a Lumbergh, you'll have an office full of Peters (and worse, maybe even a Milton or two).

It's simple really: engage your employees not as employees, but as people. If you see employees, you'll treat them that way. If you see people, you'll treat them that way. Your employees know they work for you, and you ultimately have the final say. You don't need to carry a big stick, enforcing your will. Dial back the manager act for a minute and just engage with them one on one. You'll be amazed at how your work relationships will evolve. Trust, confidence, loyalty, all of these things will shoot through the roof.

And while you're engaging, do your employees a favor and talk less and listen more. This is where the Observe step comes in. Ask some questions and then listen. Find out what your employees know.

What they're excited about?

What they're unsure of?

What they're struggling with?

What's the mood of the office?

How are they getting along with their coworkers?

Once you know the answers to these questions, you'll know where and how you need to spend your time.

For instance, maybe you have an employee who is highly motivated and resourceful, but they are finding it tough to complete their tasks due to some office red tape. You can invest some of your time analyzing some of your internal processes to see if they make sense. Try to eliminate road blocks for that employee, so they can continue being awesome.

Maybe you have an employee struggling with an office relationship. You can invest your time in meeting with the people involved and helping to mend that relationship. Let them know you value each of them as part of the team, and hopefully getting them back to working well together.

Or maybe you have a team member who is super energetic and loves to help others. They are a solid performer, and very popular in the office. This is a golden opportunity for a little appreciation and reinforcement. (We'll talk more about Appreciation in step 3...) They really don't need much else from you other than to know that you support them and value what they bring to the table.

It all starts with noticing. Being observant of your employees and the work they're doing. I've said it before, I'll say it again. And I'm going to continue saying it a lot more. Leadership is rarely easy, but it should always be simple.

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