The workplace is a tapestry of attitudes, beliefs, cultures, generations, and habits. Dump that into a cubicle with different ways of getting things done and it's like sharing a bathroom with a messy teenage sibling. Sometimes we see things we don't want to see. Towels on the floor. Sometimes we are frustrated and get angry. What if we started every day seeking to understand workplace dynamics from each other's vantage point? Would that change how we communicate, lead, trust, and experience work? In the interest of trying to help leaders and teams thrive, I asked some effective leaders and high performing team members what was on their workplace relationship wish list. Here are my non-scientific results from both perspectives:
The Leader's List for Team Members
1. Be reliable. When I ask you to do something, do it promptly. If I do not give you clear instruction or a deadline, ask me about it. I'm busy and not perfect. I am secure enough to delegate and trust you to get it done. But don't be afraid to ask questions. If I am causing delay in you completing a task, let me know.
2. Don't just tell me what you think I want to hear. Have the professional courage to honestly discuss your workload, personal concerns, organizational politics, and ideas to improve our work processes. But let's trust each other enough to talk candidly. I am confident enough to hear opposing views. All of your ideas may not be implemented and I may not be able to solve any of it. But talking it out helps us both.
3. If you make a mistake, own it. Don't avoid it, blame others, or become defensive. Sincerely apologize, discuss it with me, and learn from it. Everyone makes mistakes. It's how you respond that causes me to have a reaction of irritation or understanding. But, my worst fear is that you will make me look bad to others. While perfection causes paralysis, I do want you to do your job with excellence.
4. We will disagree. Try to understand company expectations, my preferred work style, my definition of service, and how I lead. I'll try to understand yours too. I am being asked to deliver results. I don't make this stuff up just to terrorize you. It may be uncomfortable for both of us.
5. Avoid being an expert at pointing out problems. Come to me with thoughtful solutions and creative new ideas to address problems that you see. I will listen. Sometimes the organization is not ready for your ideas, or mine. We can still do our best.
The Team Member's List for the Leader
1. Let me do my job. You hired me because I obviously have some intelligence and talents. My approach to work may be different from yours, but I will get it done. Trust me, guide me when necessary, and move out of the way.
2. Celebrate success. It's motivating to be encouraged for a job well done. Saying "thank you" for small things is nice too. But don't patronize me. Authenticity, sincerity, a day off or a bonus wouldn't hurt either.
3. Invest in my professional development. I want to learn from others in my profession and more about broader industry trends. A strong external network is good for our organization. It's good for me too. You don't know everything, neither do I.
4. Be a better listener. I need to know you will listen to my ideas and concerns without judgment. I may need to complain or want to radically change things. I want to know you will listen, offer your perspective, but don't try to solve everything. Avoid over explaining tasks and organizational dynamics. Sometimes I need to experience the organization and not just be told about it.
5. Communicate with clarity. Tell me what you expect of me and how my job contributes to our strategic goals. Make time to create goals and strategies. If you don't know, be secure enough to tell me that too. It's not about you. If I am missing subtle cues tell me, don't block or avoid me.
At the foundation of any healthy relationship is the ongoing effort to try to see things from another person's point of view. Unhealthy relationships cause perfection paralysis, polarization, and pain. We know that our reactions and responses are influenced daily by our owns deeply ingrained thoughts, behaviors, and experiences. To lead or follow you must know yourself. The foundation of a healthy workplace relationship is often built on lofty words--like "trust"and "respect." Trusting is difficult. Respect is complicated. None of it is easy. Yet, we spend too much time at work to be miserable.
It takes maturity, open communication, and compromise from both the leader and team member to enhance a relationship and ultimately perform at the highest levels. You do not have to sacrifice speed, excellence, joy, or satisfaction. There are no perfect leaders nor team members. The journey is arduous, not hopeless. Let's clean up that messy bathroom together. Pick up the towels off the floor. What's on your wish list?