In a pretty complex world, we’re often looking to simplify in small ways: organize the apps on our phone, consolidate our accounts, or pick up the phone instead of sending a long email.
To focus on the small stuff is to simplify everyday behaviors that over-complicate life. Everything can be broken down to a smaller form, and the small stuff is much easier to tackle than the big stuff.
Think about the last time you made a big plan in your personal or professional life. Perhaps it was a new year’s resolution, a 3-year strategic plan or a big trip. Every big vision or goal is made up of small steps forward, and every small step forward is a result of what you choose to do or not do: your behaviors.
For leaders, small behaviors are everything. Perhaps this is how leaders communicate, their body language, their ability to empathize and the behaviors that have become habitual instead of thoughtful. These are the small behaviors that really matter when it comes to engaging, developing and retaining employees. While it's easy to forget the 3-year strategic plan, how a leader leads - their everyday behaviors - are never forgotten.
It is true that employees quit leaders not companies. In fact, “loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders” is the #1 reason employees leave, accordinging to management expert Leigh Branham. “The quality of manager coaching and communication” is also cited as a top reason, which reinforces the connection between simply communicating well, and engaging with your employees.
Here are five ways to make small behaviors work harder as a manager and a leader:
Keep conversations human. You’ve probably sat in meetings before where a lot was said, but actually nothing was truly said. This is often the result of a lot of jargon and dancing around the point, rather than actually saying it (eloquently, of course). When it comes to the relationship between a manager and their employee, the opportunity to use real language, talk about real things and come up with real plans is especially important. This does not mean having empty conversations, rather rich conversations that get to the heart of the matter and enable a human conversation. How can you show up more human in your conversations?
Let your body language do the talking. When your verbal and nonverbal signals are out of alignment, people are forced to choose between what they hear and what they see. Subconsciously, they'll believe your body language. If you want to reiterate a point, complementary body language can help you. However, be aware of when what you say is different from what you show. For example, if you say “that’s a really interesting point” but then proceed to check your phone, there’s an inherent contradiction and your body language sends a strong message.
Make recognition simple. According to Branham’s study, the #2 reason employees quit is a lack of feeling valued, recognized and rewarded. While this does include the more complex topic of compensation, you can start small and engage people just as powerfully on an emotional level through simple recognition. We’ve highly over-engineered rewards and recognition in the workplace, and diluted the meaning down to gift cards, points and bonuses. Meanwhile, employees really want to hear you say ‘great job, thank you!’
Ask more, tell less. As people get older, they typically stop asking as many questions perhaps because we think we know the answers, or want others to think we have the answers. It's probably a good idea for us to channel our curious selves - our inner child. I often ask my clients, as a homework, to ask more questions in their personal relationships, and then notice what’s different. The ah-ha takeaway is that they can get to a deeper level, learn more about what’s actually going on, and build a more trusting relationship. If, as a leader, every day you ask 3 more questions, rather than give 3 directives, what a difference that would make!
Approach one thing different every day. Sometimes we get stuck in routine and a simple change-up is all that's needed. One of my clients makes a point to change his physical environment when he needs fresh thinking or inspiration. Recently, he had to create his 30-, 60-, 90-day plan and left the office for 30 minutes to get inspiration from the outdoors. Simply changing your environment - turning your chair in a new direction, playing some music or going for a walk - can rejuvenate your thinking. What simple change can you make today?
In the words of Confucius: “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” If you focus on your small behaviors, you will see the the biggest impact.