Get to Know, and Care About, Your People

RBLP Staff – Building and Leading Resilient Teams Series

Get to Know, and Care About, Your People

Leaders need to demonstrate that they truly care about the members of the team. To freshly minted managers out there, listen closely: It’s okay to get to know your direct reports. It’s okay to be concerned about their well-being, both professionally and personally. You can even be friends with them.

As long as you have established that you are the team leader, getting to know, and care about, the people who report to you will only make the team stronger. Now this may fly in the face of what some old-school bosses will tell you. These hardened veterans flat-out warn new managers against establishing any sort of personal relationship with their workers. Don’t cross the line. Stay out of their personal business. If you act like you care, they’ll take advantage of you.

No one wants to work for that boss.

Work is a personal, as well as a professional, pursuit for most of us. By showing an interest in their lives outside of work, you are demonstrating that you see them as individuals with friends and families–and with problems, and even crises, that may well affect their job performance. If you have no idea what’s going on with people outside work, you won’t be able to help them when they need you.

It’s easy to show a superficial interest in your team members. Chatting and family, hobbies, travel, etc. can get you started. But if they sense you are only “getting to know them” as a strategy, they won’t truly open up to you. Your concern must be genuine.

Your actions will be the proof of your true concern. We know of an instance where an employee was showing up late, taking personal calls at work, and seemed withdrawn–not his usual chipper self. His boss expressed concern: What’s going on, John? His wife had pancreatic cancer, with probably just months to live. He asked to take time off to spend with her. Initially, the answer was yes, don’t worry about a thing. But then came the conditions: If you can’t get enough hours in a week to qualify as full-time, we’ll have to drop you from the health plan.

Thanks a lot, boss.

That’s not the leader you want to be. When you see a good worker suddenly losing their edge … When you spot someone who’s not producing at that normal level … Cracking the whip harder won’t help. That’s when you need to be able to take someone aside and ask, sincerely, “What is going on? How can I help?”

If that employee believes that you care about them, they will confide in you. Maybe it’s trouble at home. Maybe it’s a substance use issue. Maybe it’s an illness that your employee hasn’t yet disclosed to you. If they feel cared about, they will open up. Then, it is up to you to respond with compassion and follow through on your promise to help.

Perhaps they need time off, the freedom to work from home, or help finding a professional who can address their needs. Sometimes just being an active listener reassures them that you care. By your actions, you can be the one that gives them permission to deal with their personal challenges without worrying about losing their job. And when they do get back on track, they will go through brick walls for you.