Do you know your people?

I love observing people, listening to them, seeing how they respond and getting to know them. I think this is the essence of leadership. To be present, have eye contact, respond sincerely. When we do that we get to know our people. We also see where we stand as an organisation or church. We get the status report, measure the temperature and make necessary adjustments as required.

I sometimes observe leaders that think leadership comes automatically with the title, so they don’t waste their time being present with their people. Why should they? They are leaders by title. This kind of leadership never lasts because people don’t follow titles or position, they follow people that are present, that see and hear them.

The trick is to move away from your title, step off that pedestal you might have climbed, and focus on getting to know people. Every opportunity that comes your way, projects together, team activities, and even the smallest thing like spending the 5 minutes extra around a good cup of coffee before a meeting or before the job starts.. those 5 minutes being present and listening and observing can make all the difference.

I’ve had some meetings over the years where people sit with sunglasses on, or you can see their eyes are not with you. They are planning or thinking about something ahead, or talking so much that there is no way they will catch any of my points. It’s hard to listen while you preach. I reach the conclusion that despite seeing and hearing me they don’t have the capacity to get to know me or, even worse, don’t want to know me.

To get to know people, you need to be present. That means as a leader, you prioritize differently. I have always kept an open door policy, meaning that my staff know they are always welcome. My phone is on 24/7 and there have been occasions where I’ve received an urgent call in the middle of the night. As a leader you are available, and I often don’t like when people talk about setting boundaries. Boundaries are good to have, but not to announce. Don’t make them a solid wall between you and your people. For me boundaries are that I choose to answer the phone, that I choose to do office work when I’m less likely to be needed. Boundaries and limits that are public build walls and leadership is suppose to build bridges.

Do you know your people?
If so, they’ll be important to you, you’ll spend time less time on their flaws and more on the good they bring. When you observe people, you also learn to know them, their strengths, their preferences, their heart.

Be on time!
Most people that know me and have been around me for any time know that time is an important issue for me. You cannot lead people and not be on time. Yes, I know you can in some cultures, but overall that is impossible and shows lack of respect for others. Leaders that show up too late all the time reduce their own authority and will end up not having followers.
Leaders come on time, in fact they are present before they need to be, spending time with people, making sure they are ready. Leaders need to have that self discipline and willingness to set a good standard when it comes to time.

Do first then teach!
If you are not willing to do it first, who wants to follow? Leadership is to be brave and go to the front and, from time to time, leading from the back. Most of the time though it’s you up front, walking on roads people have not traveled before. This requires bravery, and still you know there is a fine line between brave and stupid.

Look for fatherhood not consultants
This is more and more important to me. When we look for leaders, do we look for fathers and mothers or do we look for consultants? In a normal situation, mothers and fathers change diapers, have sleepless nights and do whatever they can to make sure their loved ones are receiving the best. Leadership functions much the same way. Those that know how to change diapers and are willing to have some sleepless nights are the ones that end up being mothers and fathers- leaders that will impact people. Consultants come in with a short term commitment, fancy-looking with a good CV, but don’t have any depth, no ownership, therefore people don’t become important to their consultant. Mothers and fathers take people with them because they are important to them.

So get to know your people. It is about having a heart for your people, more like mothers and fathers, more in a way that brings people forward and beyond me and yourself.

Until next time…get to know your people.

Rune Saether

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