“Unlock the potential”

In our “Leaders Are…” series, we’ve covered trusting, curious, coaches, self-aware, challengers, influential, and celebrators. As leaders, it’s also our job to develop the talent that we have on our team.

It’s easy to want to trade in the low potential employee for the high potential one; it’s harder to work with the talent you already have. When development is done well, it really pays off.
Early in my career, I managed the second shift operations team and safety program for a large manufacturer. Not knowing a lot about what the team did, I walked the warehouse floors, asking questions, helping lift boxes, and listening to their ideas. Our employee engagement was low, and there were several disgruntled employees, but one caught my eye. Robert was our best order filler in terms of quality and productivity, but our worst employee in terms in attitude. He walked around with hunched over shoulders, avoided eye contact, wearing a constant frown.

I began with baby steps. I would stop by and ask him about his weekend or his family. A few weeks later, I started asking him what he thought about things around the warehouse and with the team. He was slow to open up, but over the course of a few months, I earned his trust. I learned about his first career in the Navy, his wife of 30 years, his daughter going to college. I learned what motivated him and what he cared about. While my goal was to find a way to engage him, I had to get to know him first as a person. A symbol of that engagement was him joining the facility safety committee. The first time I asked, he said no. The second time, no again. Then, nearly a year later, when he stared to see believe his voice would be heard, he volunteered on his own. He ended up championing new ideas, collaborating with team members, even training new employees. When I left to go back to graduate school the next year, he said, “I will miss you, because you really care.” Years later, that remains one of the proudest moments of my career.

Start with the whole person

Just like with Robert, you have to start with the whole person. In coaching, there are many methodologies. One simple distinction is whole person vs. specific purpose coaching. Whole person encompasses family, finances, lifestyle, health, career, and a variety of factors that fully explain the person we are. To learn more about your team, simply asking, “what do you want?” can take you far. You will be surprised by the answers. Leaders often fear the team will ask for a raise or promotion. That generally is not the case. As humans, we are far more motivated by purpose and value. If our value and purpose aligns with the word we do, we’re likely to be successful. Find out what your team really wants.

Match the skill and will

I wrote a blog earlier this year, The Discipline of Delegation. What I found interesting about its popularity was how vulnerable leaders were in sharing how delegation was a weakness for them. Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model simplifies this for leaders, helping them diagnose the skill and the will based on a task. What often happens is that team members are promoted to manager roles because they were high performers individually. As they move into managing people, we assume that success will carry forward, but it is a different skill entirely. To set your team up for success, think about the task and the team members skill level – are they learning or are they doing?, then ask yourself – do they have a positive attitude or negative attitude? Based on where they are in their development path, they may need directing, supporting, coaching, or delegating leadership styles to match them where they are.

Ignite the passion

I regularly listen to this podcast, Entrepreneurs on Fire. One thing the host does really well is asking great open-ended questions of his successful entrepreneur guests. He has a formula with the first question he asks each guest – “are you ready to ignite?” The first time I listened, I thought it was cheesy, but after hearing guest after guest commit to a high level of excitement up front, he really engaged both the guest and the listener as a result. My point in sharing this is, is that we all have passions inside of us. For me, I am a huge (some might say obnoxious) Ohio State fan, camper and traveler, and love helping leaders be better leaders to their teams. When a client or colleague approach me and ask about any one of these passions, I am all ears. I get excited about it and it translates to our next topic of discussion. Find out what gets your team excited and tie it to the work they do as much as possible. If nothing else, ask about their passions during one-on-ones or when checking in with them on projects or initiatives. It not only shows you care, but it sets the discussion up for success. It unlocks the potential.

How will you develop your team?

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