I have noticed that many leaders of professional service teams do a lot of the formal things that are required of them. They hold meetings to review performance, they conduct performance review interviews, they keep their people informed about major changes, they involve their teams in objective setting and so on. What they don’t do so much of is listening and talking informally one to one with their colleagues.
The motivational effects of taking an interest in people’s personal lives, knowing about their aspirations and helping them with their worries and crises cannot be overestimated. It is all about developing relationships that go beyond the day-to-day tasks that people have to do.
I sometimes hear professionals, particularly older ones, say that they haven’t the time or the inclination to talk to people other than on strictly technical and business matters. Sometimes they even seem to be a little uncomfortable when out of the strictly professional role. On the other hand leaders who do show a genuine interest in the leisure interests and home and family life of others find that it helps people to feel valued. When this happens then motivation is usually enhanced.
Most young professionals are not simply concerned with their current range of work activities. They have aspirations. If they are in private practice they may want to become partners. Some will want to take on leadership roles. Others will be keen to develop their marketing skills. Many will wish to widen the horizons of their professional abilities by working in new client sectors, pursuing an international presence or developing a different technical speciality. In many firms these issues receive some attention, often mechanical and perfunctory, at annual performance review discussions. Good leaders, however, talk about them frequently and informally with the people concerned. They not only know about their team members’ aspirations but they go out of their way to assist in their achievement. People like working for team leaders who are genuinely interested in their career development. It is another key to good motivation. Leaders who have a reputation for helping their people to build their careers are more likely to attract good people to work for them. This is a refreshing contrast to those nominal team leaders who block progress of their good people because they are afraid of losing them to other parts of the business.
We all have our ups and downs in life. We have crises in our personal lives. We become stressed. We get tired. We get frustrated. We have periods when our work doesn’t run smoothly. We have tough times with difficult clients. Sometimes these problems lead to a fall-off in performance. Sometimes people try to make up for the difficulties by working extremely long hours. Good leaders are attentive to these crises. By keeping in touch and taking the time, informally, to talk with their colleagues they know when these problems arise. If you are a team leader who is aware, who listens, who offers support and who helps then that will lift the spirits of those experiencing difficulties in their lives and assist them in getting back on track.
Ed Smith explains the importance of this leadership attribute at PricewaterhouseCoopers:
These days we work in difficult markets. Clients are very demanding. Life is getting more and more complicated. We all need plenty of resilience to cope with the tough conditions. The support that team leaders can provide to their colleagues is vital in ensuring a high level of motivation. We tell our people not to go it alone. There is no sin in asking for help, quite the reverse. What is not acceptable is for people not to ask for help and then to get it wrong. Our team leaders know that they must always be available to provide support. In a way, availability to colleagues, when help is needed, is the essence of the team leader’s role. I believe that it is a key factor in how we keep people motivated.