Have you ever been frustrated because no one will listen to you? You have worked hard for many years, studied your craft, learned all the ins and outs to become an expert and a resource for knowledge and guidance. Armed with all that knowledge, yet you struggle to influence people to follow you. You feel like you are talking to a wall most of the time. You blame those you are trying to lead for not listening to you. "They just won't listen." "They just don't get it." You repeatedly say.
Have you ever wanted to know why?
The answer is that they don't care how much you know.
All your expertise means nothing to them for one major reason: You have never showed your people that you care for them. You have never taken steps to build trust with them. There is a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that states: "People don't care about what you know until they know how much you care." This is a fact in growing as a leader. I am not saying you have to become best friends with your people, but I am saying that you have to care for their well-being. You have to display to them that you can be trusted. You have to also have that servant-leader mind-set. You have to hold yourself to a standard at all times of solid character and integrity.
One of the easiest ways to establish trust is to be genuine and real with your people.
Be true to who you are. You are unique. You will not lead people like others lead. I have witnessed people promoted or assuming new leadership positions who change their persona and how they approach people. They feel the position demands them to act differently than they had prior to acquiring that position. They allow their position to define them vs. defining the position for themselves. All they are doing is creating an act that they must maintain, if they are to maintain any credibility. This is not possible. When you are faking it, you can't maintain the act. Who you really are will eventually win out in the end. Your people can see right through you when you fake it. It is actually not something visual, but rather, how you make them feel. By being genuine about who you are, you will make your people feel secure about who they are, and then you will have a foundation to work from in establishing TRUST.
Be humble and be willing to learn from your people.
I can't tell you how quickly you will be warmly received if you ask the simple question: "Can you show me how you do something?" If you know me, you have heard me tell this story many times; I had a battalion commander (a colonel at the time who is retired brigadier general) who, on a Saturday, in the months prior to deploying to Iraq in 2003, put on coveralls and climbed under trucks and had young 18, 19, 20 year old Marines teach him their jobs. He later told me that his knuckles were never so bloodied and sore, but he could have never learned more about the Marines than he did on that day. He said he learned about where they were from, their families, the living conditions at the barracks, the quality of the food in the chow hall, etc... I remember when I had joined that unit, I asked a young Marine about what he thought about the colonel. All he could talk about was how great he was, and then he shared that story of him fixing trucks with the Marines. That simple, humble act accelerated his ability to influence not just those Marines, but the entire battalion, because the story was well known throughout the battalion.
One day spent shoulder to shoulder with your people, and allowing them the opportunity to teach you something will pay greater dividends than you can imagine. You would be surprised how eager they are to share with you what they know, and what they are passionate about. And then how willing they will be to give you their attention in hearing what you have to say.
Serve your people.
A leader is never to be served by their people. They are to serve their people. Your job, as a leader is to make sure your people are well equipped to tackle any and all challenges. Mentally, physically, and emotionally. Make sure they have the right tools, the right conditions, and eliminate obstacles so that they can have laser focus on accomplishing the objectives you need them to accomplish. We all see the commercials of the young new-hire getting coffee for the senior guys on the team, or for their leaders. I would suggest that you to flip that script. Be the leader who gets coffee for your people. Many have a miss-perception that the Marines, with their hierarchy command structure with strict discipline, has the Marines serving their chain of command. Quite the opposite. While in Iraq in 2003, upon returning from a week-long convoy operation, I would go sit in a steel 40ft container that was about 100 plus degrees inside, and sweat by butt off sifting through mail for my Marines. Their morale was important to me. I could have sent one of them to do this task, but I felt it was a service I should provide to them.
Show your people that you support them through your actions. Hold them in a high regard and serve them. If they make a decision, instead of being critical of it, help them make that decision a successful one. If it really was a wrong decision, help them learn from it.
When you are a wealth of knowledge, yet no one cares about what you have to say, you have a trust issue. Some leaders feel that they need to skip all the niceties and start driving hard on delivering results. I understand that pressure to perform, but it's like if you take the top off an hour-glass and try to use your fist to shove the sand through. All you are doing is stopping the flow all together.
If your people don't care about what you know, they are waiting for you to show how much you care. This is your responsibility to demonstrate, if you want to get to a level of productivity. It requires awareness and discipline on your part.
Chris Waters is an Executive Leadership Coach and Owner of
Agoge Leadership Development LLC
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