One evening when I came through our front door my youngest daughter, who was around four at the time, jumped from the sixth stair into my arms where I was standing on our tile floor! My first thought was, wow that was incredible as I caught her. But my second thought was one of horror, “What would have happened if I had dropped her?”
After giving her a big hug and telling her how much I loved her too I laid into her and let her know how dangerous it was for her to jump like that. Instantly her happy face turned to tears and I realized that I had chosen the wrong time and the wrong way to talk with my daughter.
This is not just a parent to child learning situation. In my consulting and coaching I often observe leaders who fall into this same set of reactions with their employees. At the heart of the problem is not having clearly communicated the expected boundaries within a mutually agreed to parameter. This creates the question, “What are your priorities?” which ironically is also at the heart of the issue.
Just because a leader has a set of priorities doesn’t mean he has clearly communicated them, and if by chance, too many of these priorities are one-sided employees will resist following any of them. This is human nature. This is further complicated with the degree to which the leader happens to like or care for the employee. Just as I was mired in mixed messages with my daughter so leaders can become trapped by their lack of clear communications. The result? A communications gap nearly always builds.
After I had thought about what I could do to fix my problem with my daughter I followed three simple steps, and these apply to professional situations as well:
- State the problem clearly and unemotionally
- Explain what needs to happen in the future
- Be supportive throughout the discussion
This approach eventually cheered up my daughter and our relationship was restored. I must say that she never jumped into my arms from the stairs again but I found out years later that she often climbed high trees and ran across fences to get into other yards! And more recently, during a trip to Ecuador she ran with the bulls during a festival. Some things you just can’t change.
For leaders today it is important to understand that everyone is wired differently and will go about things in their own way. So rather than telling them how to do something it’s usually better to tell them what you would like done and let them decide how to go about it. Being clear in your expectations at the start will always produce happier results for everyone, including you.