One of the key aspects managing people effectively is the ability to show genuine interest. What do I mean by genuine interest? I mean that not only you act as that you care, but you really do care and listen to what people are saying. It is easier said than done. Especially when you just want to get the job done and you may not care about the employee at all. If that is your case then face the sad truth: you are not a leader. At best you are a manager, who needs to use authoritative style of management, and no one will follow you. Some people are more adept at this, have more empathy and are more people oriented. Others may be more task oriented and may not have the curiosity and interest in the other people’s lives and problems. However, as a leader it is your responsibility and in fact your purpose to be there for your team.
The good news is that the ability to be genuinely interested in people is something that can be learned. You can learn to be interested in others. You can learn to care about others around you. You can learn to trust people around you and by doing this other people will be interested in you, will care about what you have to say and will trust you. The bad news is that it takes lots of effort and time and you need to be willing to change a bit who you are. If you decide to change who you are you need to be aware of the impact of the change on you, your personal and professional life and on people around you. The change will be probably pretty slow and needs some careful consideration before you start.
I don’t have a recipe for how to do it as each of us is unique, but I can offer you couple of thoughts that can help you with this learning process. Depending on your habits, on your beliefs, learned behavior and generally on who you are you may need to build this skill in phases.
1. Announce it to the world
At the beginning you will most likely only pretend. Wait a minute. Leader and pretending? That doesn’t sound right. But again, you need to start somewhere and let’s allow ourselves (as junior leaders) the option to pretend, having the greater good in mind. You are doing this with genuine interest in developing a particular skill. You may also want to announce this to the world, meaning your team. For example: “Guys I realized that I don’t pay enough attention and don’t show interest in you and what you do. Please, help me to change this.” This statement doesn’t make the pretension right, but it buys you time as people will understand what you are trying to achieve and will be more lenient for some time in this regard.
2. Focus on the person
When you talk to a person always make sure you focus only on that particular individual and don’t get distracted by anything else. You need to not only pay attention but let the other person know that you are paying attention. This means that your whole body language must be in sync with what you are saying. Stop doing whatever you are doing, face the person, make eye contact and listen.
Let me give you an example to illustrate. One thing that you can see in the business world very often, especially in fast-paced environments is that people are always busy, always online, reading emails, fiddling with their blackberry or iPhone. When you come to such a person with request or question he may not even glance at you, may continue writing his message and just asks “How can I help you?” So his words are saying, yes, I care about your problem, but his whole body language sends a very clear message: “Don’t you see I’m busy? I really don’t care about your problem.”
The leader who shows genuine interest would stop writing, maybe took a deep breath to switch from one context to another, face you, fully focus on you as a person and then ask how can be of help. The experience for you is very different and so it is for the leader. He genuinely cares and wants to help you. He understands that if he just half-listens not only he may not understand what message you try to get across, but he knows that you will also have a rather negative experience and will not feel like being treated with respect. Even if you caught the leader at a wrong time and he really cannot make the time for you just now, he still needs to switch the context, focus on you, ensure he doesn’t appear irritated, use the right tone of voice and ask you to come at another time.
3. See the world through their eyes
Another important thing that will help you to build a genuine interest in others is to be willing to step into their shoes and look at the world through their eyes. It may very well be that the topic someone came to you with is on the surface not important for you but it may be vital to that person. That makes it vital also to you as a leader who is responsible for that particular person. If you really don’t understand and feel like the topic is no priority, use the coaching approach and ask “Why is it important to you?” The person in question will have to think why this is a topic he cares about thus giving you a chance to understand him better.
If even the person admits that it is not a critical thing you can then easily move the discussion to another time or just let the person to come up with the answer himself by returning the question “So what would you do?” or “What do you want to do about it?” Of course empathy and tone of voice play a key role so you are seen as someone who genuinely cares and tries to help.
At the end it all boils down to a simple human condition called curiosity. If you want to be a great leader who cares about his team and is able to show a genuine interest then remember the days when you were a kid curious about everything and everyone around you…
Twitter type summary: “Treat each conversation like a surgical operation. Give it your undivided attention, your voice, eyes, mind and body must be as one.”
What about you? How do you show to your team that you care? How do you build respect? How do you make others to follow you?