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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

Three Basic Truths About People That Busy Leaders Should Not Ignore

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Lately, I’ve been working with a company that’s about to make a big leap. They have a potentially world-changing product and are on the cusp of scaling up in a big way. It’s very exciting stuff.

Everyone from the CEO on down is super busy. There is a lot of work to do both internally and externally. With all the demands, time and attention are scarce.

That’s true for many of the leaders I work with. It can be really exciting when you’re running at a hundred miles per hour to get big things done. The challenge is that, in that kind of situation, it’s easy to lose sight of some basic truths about people that you just intuitively get when you’re not so absorbed by everything else you have to do.

Here, then, are three basic truths about people that busy leaders should not ignore:

People care about where you are and what you’re doing. When you’re running hard, you’re likely to be in a lot of meetings and, possibly, on a lot of airplanes. You’re getting stuff done but it can feel to your team like you’re missing in action. Keep doing what you need to do but let them know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Set the context and tell the story. Nature abhors a vacuum. In the absence of solid information, people make stuff up. That’s hardly ever helpful. Avoid that by letting your people know where you are, what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

People want predictability. To do their best work, most people need some amount of predictability. They need to know what’s expected of them, what others are working on and how it all hangs together. This is especially true for leadership teams. They need an operating rhythm that ensures that they can stay well informed and in sync with each other. That requires regular and consistent communications. It can be hard to stick with the rhythm of that when you’re running flat out, but it needs to be a priority. Without the predictability of that kind of communication, your team will likely lose their way.

Don’t ask, “Are there any questions?” because people rarely speak up. How many times have you been in a town hall meeting (or, worse, leading one) when, after all the presentations, someone asks, “Are there any questions?” and the response is crickets. That’s because most people are never going to step up and ask the first question in front of a room. Again, that’s especially true when there is a lot going on and a lot of change. If you really want to know what people think (and you should), don’t ask, “Are there any questions?” Instead, ask “What are we missing?” or “What’s going on that we need to pay more attention to?” If you really want to grease the skids, pose one of those questions and then give people ten minutes to talk about it in small groups and then ask for some spokespeople from each group. You’ll almost certainly get better information that way.

So, be busy and get big stuff done. Just don’t ignore the basic truths about what people need while you’re doing it. Your team will be a lot more engaged and productive if you tend to what they need.

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former Soundinvestments, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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