A recent post on LinkedIn had me thinking: in the quest to assemble the team we need, do we often get the team we deserve instead? They should be one and the same, yet that’s barely ever the case in practice.
We want—and need—our employees to be engaged, curious, collaborative, knowledgeable, proactive, daring, and with a mindset of learning and growing. We’ve also been trained to seek out and hire for these qualities, however accurate a recruiting process can be. And then we expect team members, new and old, to act and live up to the potential we’ve seen in them. In the words of regional manager Michael Scott, “I’m so impressed with the potential that you see in me.”
Things get tricky when that doesn’t happen, and we’re left wondering what went wrong.
Since you’ll find me tinkering in Salesforce more often than not, I’ll use the example of a CRM analyst tasked with preparing weekly reports for the Sales team.
- A star analyst would first identify all their stakeholders, reach out to clarify their needs and use cases, assess the status quo, and build reports accompanied by documentation outlining filters and how to edit them. They would also provide further insights and recommendations for better accessibility and visualization (dashboards are great!) and set up periodic check-ins with the Sales team to ensure the reports continue to serve their purpose. This analyst proactively involves their stakeholders throughout the process, can incorporate feedback on the go, and knows how to play to each other’s strengths: they’re the reporting experts, but it’s Sales who knows better what they need.
- An average analyst would reach out to clarify what specific fields should be reported on but will likely minimize their stakeholders’ realities by not involving them much past the initial stage. They provide locked reports, but they’re happy to accommodate later edit requests and offer to build visual dashboards if needed – just let them know!
- A poor analyst is likely to follow the request ad litteram. They will prepare reports, download and email them as attachments, and move on to their next task.
Our CRM analyst example is overly simplified, but I hope it does get the point across. The difference between the three types is not one of seniority or even tenure in the company. It’s not one of subject knowledge either, as any of our three analysts could do the star job—that’s why we hired them!
The difference between them is the mindset, attitude, and the environment in which they operate, funneling them towards different results. While the mindset and attitude are more personal aspects that we may not be able to influence to a sufficient degree, we can certainly help build an environment that is supportive and conducive for everyone to be a star.
When there’s an easily perceivable gap between what our team should be and what the team is, we have a leadership issue.
Identifying where it lies and how to fix it will require insight and empathy above all.
Insight comes from introspection and self-awareness: we need to find out why and how we fail as leaders and how we can improve. The difference between our star analysts and the ones we perceive as “poor” can often be the consequence of our failure to empower the latter to act more like the former. Some of the questions we can ask ourselves include:
- What type of leader am I?
- What type of leader does my team need me to be?
- What’s my personal purpose, and is that aligned with the organizational purpose?
- How do I support all my team members in acting like leaders themselves?“
Remember that modern leadership is not a synonym for “management,” necessarily implying a certain level of seniority. Anyone can—and should—act as a leader, no matter the hierarchy. This means embracing diversity and reconciling complementary strengths and approaches to achieve a common goal and help others along the way.
Empathy is both the glue that keeps it all together and the lubricant that smoothes out processes involving humans. We ensure we hire our teams to meet set criteria of expertise and experience. But do we understand what motivates each individual, how they relate to their immediate and extended work environment, and whether they know what’s expected of them? To understand why someone would seemingly perform below the level at which they were hired, we need to see from their point of view, perceive their constraints, and understand their motivation—that is, we need to practice and show empathy.
Among other issues, our example from earlier reveals that “average” or “poor” performers tend to lack a collaboration mindset. As collaboration tends to be designed either to advance a mutual goal or to resolve a conflict, we need to figure out why it doesn’t occur: is the mutual goal unclear, or maybe there’s a conflict we’re not aware of?
An essential manifestation of empathy in leadership is the ability to tell whether someone experiences psychological comfort in their work environment.
In the CRM analysts’ example above, we would need to ask ourselves:
- Do the non-star performers feel comfortable requesting and offering feedback?
- Does everyone feel safe bringing up and discussing uncomfortable topics?
- Does everyone feel heard and valued?
Let’s collectively encourage self-aware, authentic, and empathetic leadership approaches—at all levels. Let’s create work environments where everyone is supported to be the star performer we saw in them in the first place. To do this, we can start by placing more importance on introspection and empathy.
And if you have ideas and personal experience of achieving that, please take place in the conversation and share your thoughts!