Understanding your employees can drive greater business success. Many of the most effective executives grasp not only their employees’ skills and experience, but who they are: their characters and needs. Your team’s needs are especially important: when unmet, your people simply can’t and won’t deliver their best work. Leaders who know their employees’ needs can expect the business to deliver better results.
But to meet those needs, you have to understand them. And this understanding requires the empathy that comes with self-awareness. Needs take many forms – and while some may be common and easily grasped, others may change over time or differ according to the individual.
How do successful leaders understand and address employees’ needs? Below are four key ways the most effective executives can create more satisfied, motivated teams – and more sustainable businesses.
1. Live in the real world
At every level of an organisation, employees must balance their work with the challenges of the everyday. Deciding what’s important, maintaining relationships, supporting a family, staying fit, practicing a spiritual life if so inclined, keeping up with physical and emotional health; balancing these myriad needs can be difficult.
A leadership approach that “lives in the real world” and acknowledges the ways these needs shape individuals is more conducive to effective communication and cooperation. Executives who acknowledge the importance of the other “balls” employees must juggle – family, health, friendships, and more – foster an environment where individuals feel comfortable discussing their needs and limits. When employees know they can discuss and find ways to address needs at home, this helps build trust and team buy-in.
2. Consider the modern context
The demands on your team are different than ten years ago – just as the demands on any leader have changed in a more connected world. Many of us are bombarded by information, with our attention under constant demand.
If you’re in a leadership position and don’t understand the demands of the modern context, it’s going to be hard to steer a ship that travels in that context. For example, if your employees are under a constant barrage of communications, even during time when they’re ostensibly away from work, you might consider ways you can turn down the volume to prevent burnout. Are all of those communications essential? As you team is increasingly “plugged in,” it’s important to help them unplug and refresh.
3. Foster psychological security
In order to work most effectively, a team must feel psychologically secure. That is to say, they must feel that they can advance ideas and perspectives without fear of repercussion.
These open lines of communication are essential for leaders and organisations to gather the most relevant information possible – and for individuals to remain satisfied and sustainably productive in their work. By inviting discussion and alternative perspectives, by asking for others’ ideas, a leader demonstrates openness. Just as importantly, when employees offer their opinions and ideas, a self-aware executive doesn’t react with anger, belittlement, or disinterest. Instead, he or she engages with the insight and affirms its value.
4. Cultivate a more self-aware culture
The needs addressed above – for psychological security, for recognition of basic needs and the information barrage of modern life – can’t all be addressed exclusively by an executive. Our sense of security, for example, may depend on multiple levels of hierarchy, and on our professional environment as a whole.
An employee may sense that a senior executive is open to ideas but still work in a fear-based environment fostered by a middle manager, for example.
That means it’s important to thoughtfully shape the environment. What type of culture do you want to create? Self-aware leaders seek to cultivate a more self-aware culture, discouraging dictatorial styles and hiring for qualities such as innovation, creativity, empathy, and curiosity.
In fact, a 2014 study of 6,947 professionals at 486 companies found that on average, employees at low-performing companies were 79% more likely to exhibit low self-awareness than those at higher-performing firms. When you promote values of self-awareness in the fabric of an organisation, it grows progressively easier to help employees be as successful as possible.
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By Paul Butterworth MNI, Global Head of the Maritime & Shipping Practice at Odgers Berndtson