Transforming your team – Learning to lead

by Sally Colby

Transforming the work team begins with communication and relationship building. Everyone communicates, whether it’s with family, friends or those we work with. Richard Stup, Cornell Cooperative Extension, said that in some communications, we’re actively working on building a relationship. “As leaders and managers, we need to be doing the same thing, all the time, with the people we want to lead and have influence with.”

Stup emphasized the fact that leadership depends on the relationships with the people you supervise. People often develop relationships with those they do business with, such as lenders or sales personnel. “As managers, we need to be doing the same thing all the time with people we want to lead,” he said. “Your leadership depends on the relationships with the people you supervise.”

People with whom there is long-term trust and of whom others speak well will have influence with you because there’s a solid relationship. “The same function operates with your employees,” said Stup. “This is why communication is so critical – we’re trying to build relationships so we can have greater influence as we lead people.”

It can be challenging for managers who struggle with communication and don’t enjoy interacting with others, but it’s possible for those who aren’t social butterflies to be leaders. Stup mentioned Stephen Covey’s concept of the emotional bank account. It’s similar to a regular bank account in that deposits are made to build the balance. Managers can prove they’re trustworthy by keeping promises, showing little acts of kindness, being loyal and listening. “Too often, when we’re supposed to listening, we’re thinking about what we are going to say next,” said Stup. “That isn’t listening – we can’t keep full attention on that person and we don’t hear or understand what that person is saying to us.”

As deposits are added to the emotional bank account, withdrawals are also being made. Those withdrawals are broken promises. Stup said not listening to people is a major withdrawal from the account and comes across to others as dismissive behavior.

“In the morning, do you say hello and make eye contact?” said Stup. “Do you try to connect with people? If not, you’re probably disconnected. If you’re leading or supervising others, even if it’s difficult for you, make those little things happen.”

Constant withdrawals create strained relationships with employees because the emotional bank account has a low balance. But with a full account, and if someone has a lot of trust in the manager, anything negative the manager may have to express to an employee will be easier for that employee to receive because there’s a full balance in the account.

While body language is silent, it says a lot, and Stup said people can learn to control their body language. Open posture versus crossed arms or a smile versus a frown makes it easy for others to see whether someone appears to be closed off or welcoming. Stup suggested managers make themselves available to employees, encouraging them to approach you and try to maintain open and welcoming body language.

It’s also important to carve out part of the workday when you have time to be open and available to talk. “Managers can get so busy running around, solving problems and dealing with issues, they forget to stop and take time to be available for employees,” Stup said. “Sometimes this is ‘managing by walking around.’ Stop in, say hello and be visible and available.”

In quoting Teddy Roosevelt, Stup said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Most people are constantly evaluating if others care. You can show employees you care by taking them seriously, respecting their individuality as individuals and not as a group. Use active listening, pay attention and ask follow-up questions.”

Employees realize that managers are busy, but when managers take time to be with employees, there’s a clear message that the manager is spending valuable time that way. “Everybody has their own name, and their name is precious to them,” said Stup. “If you want to be listened to and build a relationship with employees, take time to remember their names, learn everyone’s names and use their name when you’re talking with them.” Pronouncing someone’s name correctly is a sign of respect that can go a long way in building a relationship.

In many cases, leaders must overcome a language barrier. “If you’re going to hire people who speak a different language, you need to take steps to overcome that barrier,” said Stup, adding that it’s the responsibility of the most senior managers to overcome that barrier.

On many farms where some employees are Spanish-speakers, the farm will have an interpreter visit regularly to help with communication. But in many cases, there’s an issue that needs to be addressed immediately and the interpreter isn’t there. “From a safety standpoint, you have to be able to communicate with each other,” said Stup. “The solution to that is for managers to learn Spanish and be able to speak it.” Stup added that cultural barriers must also be dealt with, and encouraged managers to help all employees interact and get to know one another.

Anyone interested in “Transforming Your Team: Employee Communications and Management” can register for the remainder of the presentations at centerfordairyexcellence.org. The next presentation is scheduled for Oct. 12.

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