Meeting an Employee’s Need to Be Accepted Is EVERYTHINGDate - May 5, 2018
By Jennifer R. Farmer
“Do you like me?” is a four-word sentence that strikes to the core of a basic human need: to be accepted. Regardless of who you are or what you do, at some point, most of us will ask whether our teams, peers and managers like us.
I still remember when I realized the relationship with my boss impacted my performance. I was working in the Ohio Senate as a legislative aide for former Ohio State Senator Mark Mallory, who went on to become the first African-American mayor of Cincinnati. To know Mallory is to love him. He was dedicated to not only the district he represented but also to the legacy established by his father, William Mallory Sr., who also served in the Ohio Senate. Whenever a new staffer began in Mallory’s office, he sat the individual down and gave them the charge: a speech informing the staffer of their purpose in the office as well as the shoulders on which he or she stood. This provided the clarity that is a prerequisite for performing well. And once we knew his expectations, we were able to meet them.
Throughout my time in his office, I was always clear that Mallory not only liked me as a person but also approved of my work. He consistently complimented me on my writing, and he’s the reason I ultimately pursued a career in communications. I worked for him more than 17 years ago, and to this day, he remains one of my favorite managers. Working with Mallory, I learned the formula for when I produce my best work is when I’m clear that my boss likes and approves of me. When this basic need is met, I am emboldened to share ideas, and I feel comfortable speaking up and offering my perspective.
Alternatively, I’ve been in situations where I was gripped by fear that my boss not only didn’t care for me as a person but didn’t value my contributions. In these situations, I was fearful of taking risks that could produce innovative ideas. Because I was unwilling to take risks, I struggled to show up authentically and powerfully.
To flip this scenario on its head, I’ve been on the other side too; as the manager interacting with team members. Regrettably, there have been occasions where I’ve valued the product over the person; meaning I evaluated a human being based on what they could produce rather than who they were on an individual level. I discovered the same principle to be true; the people on my team who performed the best were clear of my like and respect for them separate and apart from what they could produce or how they contributed to the bottom line. Now, when I encounter roadblocks with team members, I’m learning to step back and assess the message that I, as their manager, am sending. In every situation where I have made a conscious effort to get to know a team member on a personal level and to express my like and appreciation for him or her, the dynamics of our relationship changed.
The times when I’ve failed as a manager have been when I didn’t take the time to get to know team members or when I was narrowly focused on the task and not the person. This approach didn’t turn out well for me, and I trust it won’t turn out well for you either.
As such, I’m reconsidering what it means to be a leader and am placing a higher premium on transitioning away from the person responsible for ensuring tasks get done to someone who asks, “how can I support you as you tackle this project?”
I’m discovering that being a leader is sometimes being a cheerleader. Imagine the people on the sidelines of a race. They’re passing out water, sharing encouragement and offering other resources that support runners to perform at their very best. Similarly, the best leaders know how important it is to be crystal clear in their support for their teams.
If you’re unsure how to help a team member improve, get really clear on the spoken or unspoken messages you’ve sent to the staffer. And when in doubt, double-down on your explicit support for him or her. I’ve learned this is the best path to creating a harmonious as well as productive workplace environment.
Jennifer R. Farmer is a strategic communicator and the author of “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide.” Connect with her by following Facebook.com/Tips4ExtraordinaryPR.