How to ensure people feel supported, valued, and safe – Strategy #6 (of 31) – Communicate openly and authentically

We have previously published a series of practical leadership actions around the themes of people feeling supported, valued and safe; creating a ‘team environment’; supporting learning and growth; empowering staff and building autonomy; ensuring clarity of roles and expectations; and creating meaning and purpose.

We are now going to explore the actionable steps that you can take to enable the suggested strategies and actions.  This is one in a series of 31 posts providing specific descriptions of the actions in practice.

So, this post is focusing on the theme of people feeling supported.  In a previous post we have talked through 5 overarching strategies to ensure there is clarity of roles and expectations:

  1. Communicate openly and authentically.
  2. Provide direct help and support.
  3. Actively encourage appropriate behaviours.
  4. Provide the necessary resources.
  5. Share information regularly.
  6. Show appreciation and recognition.

In this post we take a deep dive into the specific strategy of:

Communicate openly and authentically

Having a mindset of being genuinely interested in the people you lead will flow through all your interactions and communication and they will experience you as authentic and trustworthy.

So, here are some of the actions that can be taken to put this leadership strategy into practice:

a) Say ‘hello’ to people in the morning – show that you genuinely care.  This is such a simple thing to do and enables people to feel ‘seen’ and valued.  Some leaders with a natural ‘task-orientation’ may find this challenging. However, when you recognize that it is actually important for many people and that you need to fully take up your leadership responsibility to create a positive work environment you can greet people authentically and make it part of a regular routine.

b) Take the time to get to know each of your staff as individuals.  Spending one-on-one time with your staff where you are not talking about work issues, tasks and projects is real work. This might involve getting to know each other personally and sharing aspects of your life (outside of work) that you are comfortable to share.  It can also include getting to know how each of you like to work – how they like to be communicated with, what their ‘hot buttons’ might be, preferences for the big picture/detail etc.  This might also be achieved in a team setting through use of instruments that reveal people’s needs and preferences in the workplace.

c) Show genuine interest and respect for what individuals in your team do.  When working directly with team members on projects, tasks, or activities you can demonstrate respect and care by genuinely listening and being present.  While not always easy it is important to free your mind of distractions and in those moments make them feel that they are the most important person you are talking to today.  This looks like asking them questions, seeking their input and views, and allowing them to express their feelings. 

d) Explain the reasoning and thinking behind decisions.  Doing this demonstrates respect for individuals (as fully functioning adults that are intelligent enough to understand such reasoning) as well as building trust through transparency.  At a more practical level it limits scope for people to make up the reasons behind decisions based upon erroneous assumptions and take action that may be unhelpful.  It does not mean that they will agree with the decisions, but they might understand and accept the validity of the thought processes behind them.

e) Seek and listen to team member opinions and ask for their advice.  People feel valued when their advice and opinions are sought.  Of course, it is important for people to understand that you may not take on board their opinions, but they will feel they are contributing.  It might be around a project that is being scoped out; how you need to engage with a stakeholder; or when you are a little stuck in trying to solve a problem – just genuinely ask them for their advice. Make sure you also close the loop in how you used the advice and how it progressed or evolved your thinking.

f) Be approachable and available so people feel comfortable initiating a discussion or raising issues.  Your degree of approachability may be dependent upon doing all the things above – do those well and people will likely feel comfortable approaching you. However, in organisations there is an underlying power dynamic present in hierarchical structures.  So extra steps may be necessary to make yourself available – such things as getting out of your office, designating times in your diary for people to come to talk to you, making people responsible for leading their one-on-ones, continually asking people to raise issues and finding ways to celebrate that.

Having read this list, some questions you may want to ask yourself might be:

  • Are there one or two ideas emerging for me that I might want to put into practice?
  • What is the smallest thing I could do that might have a positive impact?
  • How will I hold myself accountable for following through on my actions?

Good luck!