It's not a new concept, as a leader it's imperative to listen to your employees. We all heard it a million times but it's amazing how many leaders are actually bad at it. This lesson is also true outside of work, with all relationships. People communicate in a variety of ways - some will flat out tell you their opinion/feelings, others will passively communicate, while some will communicate with body language.
Think back to all the leaders you had. Which one's motivated and inspired you? Which ones did you have an allergic reaction to? I would bet the leaders that motivated you were great listeners, empathetic, and actually made you feel like you were being heard. I would also bet the ones you least liked made you feel like they could care less about what you had to say (along with other poor qualities). It was "their way or the highway."
Reflection is a critical tool seldom used. We get caught up in the fast paced environments we are in, wearing too many hats - constantly go-go-go. Reflection however is a necessary tool to spot check yourself. There's lots of research and techniques about reflection, and I am not the right person to be teaching that (but I can connect you with some great people that can). Done right, reflection will allow you to grow not only as a leader, but as a person.
So stop what you're doing and reflect - right now. How many employees have you lost in the last year or so? How many strategic relationships have gone awry? How many times has an employee flat out told you they weren't happy but you didn't do anything about it? How many times did an employee stay silent, but you could sense something wasn't right? How many times did an employee go from rockstar to low performer?
Think about it. If there's a trend, positive or negative, a main reason is your leadership. I once read an article in Forbes titled "People Leave Managers, Not Companies." The title itself is so true. I'm here to tell you right now - if you aren't listening to your employees (and making sure they know you're listening) - you are making a BIG mistake. It's a HUGEmotivation killer.
Let's role play: one of your employees tells you in a private meeting that they aren't happy with how things are going with their job. This employee is a strong contributor and if you were to lose him/her, it would have a significant impact to your business. What would you do?
If we are playing this game honestly, some of us would try to talk the person off the ledge, then hope that this will blow over (the employee is probably crabby that day) - not good. Others would try to spin this back on the employee and make them feel worse than they already do (how dare this employee say this to me) - not good. Some would actually listen to their employee, be genuinely empathetic. They will ask questions to further understand this employee's dissatisfaction - GOOD! One question I like to ask is, "If you had a magic wand and could change your situation, what would that look like?" Hearing someone's "pie-in-the-sky" ideas is a good thing. Sure some of the ideas won't be feasible, but I am confident some certainly are.
Don't confuse my message - I'm not telling every leader to make drastic changes so their employees are happy every time they come with concern. What I am saying is LISTEN to your employees, but actually make it obvious you are listening and that you actually care. Be genuine. Be empathetic. If you don't care what the employee is saying, that is a red flag - even if it's your worst performer. If you tend to ignore such complaints and hope it will go away, that is also a red flag.
Too many people underestimate the power of a motivated employee. The amount of work a motivated employee can accomplish versus those unmotivated is amazing. While everyone needs to own it and be self-directed and self-motivated, it is one of the responsibilities of a leader to keep their employees motivated.
Your employees are talking to you every single day...every hour...every minute...every second. You just have to pay attention and LISTEN. Most importantly, you just have to care and do something with all that information that is being transmitted to you.
If during reflection you realize you are one of those leaders that doesn't take action; or hope things will go away; or flat our ignore what your employees are saying - then it's time to make a change before you lose a lot of good people (or lose more people). Looking in the mirror is hard, I get that. But nothing is harder than replacing talented people. Time to put those listening ears on!