Previously published on Forbes
Queen Victoria had two great prime ministers, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. Both men dined with Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill's mother. When a journalist asked Jerome about her impression of the two men, she offered, “With Gladstone, I came away thinking he was the wittiest, most intelligent, most charming person I had ever met. With Disraeli, on the other hand, I was sure I was the wittiest, most intelligent, most charming person ever.”
It wasn't that Disraeli wasn't as brilliant as Gladstone. He was. However, Disraeli had mastered the art of making other people feel brilliant, respected, and important.
Which prime minister are you more like? Do you know what kind of “wake” you leave behind you? Do the members of your team feel more intelligent, witty and charming after they have interacted with you after a team meeting or one-on-one? Where are you placing your attention? How you engage with people matters very much. How you do your role as the boss often makes or breaks a person’s decision to stay in their job. Or are you moving too fast to turn around and look at what’s happening – driving always forward, forward, forward?
One of the keys to leadership is to pay attention to your impact. We call this, “Productive Engagement”— engaging with others in ways that inspires action and commitment. It’s about being intentional in your engagement with others so that they are left more ready and able to take action than they were before you interacted with them.
So, what are some simple ways to begin to engage more productively?
1. Ask others about the wake you are leaving.
The first step is to be curious about how others see you. This can happen through a 360-degree leadership assessment, but it can also happen in just plain, old conversation. Be brave. Ask. This helps you understand perceptions others have about you.
Once you have a sense of people’s perceptions, you can get busy increasing your self-awareness and engaging more productively. For example, if you get feedback that you interrupt people in virtual meetings or virutal one-on-ones, you may need to practice patience, slow down, and ask more questions. Jot down that thought that you are afraid you will forget. Wait for others to finish speaking before you jump in. You can measure the progress you are making by asking for feedback again in a year or so. This tells you where you have made strides and what work remains to be done.
2. Say you are sorry.
If you did something that doesn’t work, say so. This requires that you do some reflection about your day. A look back at what you feel good about and what you might not feel so terrific about. This is not rocket science. It you did something stupid, say you’re sorry. And after you’ve said you are sorry, do something about it. Work hard to not do that thing again. Otherwise, your apology is meaningless. Clean up your messes and then try not to make the same mess again.
3. Get faster at having the hard conversations.
Don’t let conflict fester. It won’t go away by itself, so address it quickly and confidently, even if you don’t feel ready. Get on Zoom, pick up the phone, have the conversation that matters. There are many books out there about how to have crucial conversations, so I won’t go into depth here, but the bottom line is this: Get better at having the hard conversations in a way that doesn’t create collateral damage. You don’t want to make things worse. That means you may have to learn new ways of talking when the stakes are high.
Productive engagement is all about being more mindful about how you interact with others. This is harder to do when you are stressed or stretched too thin. To be mindful, you have to slow down a bit. Make time for an end of the day reflection. Ask others for their perceptions and perspective. These are the little things that add up to a more productive team and work experience.