Employees want to feel appreciated and cared for. They want to be able to have a voice. They want a safe environment to share what’s on their mind….. This President got it wrong.
Recently I sat down with the President of an Austin, Texas company over a cup of coffee. It was an introductory meeting and I was wondering if she might be a good candidate for coaching.
I asked about the quality of the teamwork in the company. She told me a brief story to illustrate how well she was taking care of the employees.
“An employee spoke up in a meeting and said, ‘I don’t feel like you care about me.’ Immediately, other employees began to ‘beat her down,’ pointing out all the benefits and great pay that proved I really cared. I doubt that she’ll complain again.”
This President wanted me to believe that she was a great leader. Instead, I got curious.
Shortly afterwards we ended our meeting and went our separate ways. I got to thinking about how I had missed an opportunity.
Here’s some questions I wish I would have asked:
- What do you think the impact was on that employee?
- If she’s smart and valuable, how might that experience affect her voice at the table?
- How common is it for employees to “beat down” others publicly?
- How does the company culture encourage employees to share their “reality?”
- In what way might you have contributed to her feeling uncared for?
Those are exactly the kind of questions I’d ask if she were a client.
When someone is publicly humiliated for speaking up it’s doubtful that they’ll do that again. Some leaders might think that’s just fine, but I see it as a missed opportunity.
Employees want to feel appreciated and cared for. They want to know their place in the organization. They want to be able to have a voice. They want a safe environment to share what’s on their mind.
It’s interesting how this President thought the story proved she was a good leader. In fact, it proved that there was room for improvement.
What could she have done?
- She could have taken the conversation private. It seemed odd to me that an employee would actually say that in a meeting. Their must be some backstory. If the President didn’t want to publicly discuss it she could have said, “I’d like to hear more about that. Why don’t we talk more about that after the meeting?”
- She could have decided to explore the comment right then and there. This would have required a measure of vulnerability and a willingness to listen and be influenced. She could have begun by “double-clicking” on the words “uncared for” by asking, What does “uncared for” mean? She could have gone into discovery and exploration to discuss this delicate topic. Instead, it was about making the employee wrong.
- She could have stopped the “beat down” and let others know that’s not acceptable behavior. She could have honored the reality of the employee and opened up a healthy dialogue about the topic.
What’s the impact when you “put down” others? It’s not good.
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