Feeling Stressed? You Can Still Motivate Your Employees to Do Their Best Work
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
Stress can make it challenging for leaders to connect with people by making you isolated or invisible. Some stressed leaders even drive people away. But there are ways to motivate people to partner with you and your team to achieve shared goals, even as you continue your quest to combat and prevent stress. The key is in how you approach them to make the ask.
Care about direct reports
When you care for your direct reports, there’s a domino effect. Often a manager’s direct reports lead teams of their own, who either lead teams as well or deal with customers. When you kick-start this domino effect, you can spark a culture of caring at your company.
What to do? Caring doesn’t mean bringing doughnuts to work once a month. Caring means listening. Whenever you interact with your direct reports, start by listening to them. Don’t finish their sentences or abruptly cut them off. These behaviors quickly signal a lack of caring. Caring also involves being vulnerable. Disclose an interesting tidbit about yourself, even if it seems tangential to your work. When you reveal personal information, it makes you more relatable and encourages people to do the same.
Caring also involves wonder, so be curious and ask questions. Be inclusive, but don’t try to be equal in your treatment of your direct reports. Each of them is unique and should be treated as such. I often advise clients to make a spreadsheet listing how each member of their team likes to be appreciated. Some want a private thank-you note while others want a more public recognition with cake for all!
All that said, if your direct report is angry, frustrated, scared or demotivated, don’t don a therapist cap. Let people vent. Ask questions. Support them, and remind them about your company’s employee assistance program (EAP), if there is one. Above all, show that you care. When you act disengaged or signal that you punt work to others without thinking, it can have a major impact. Caring in itself is a stress-buster and relationship builder.
Example in practice: Frank Blake, former CEO of Home Depot, cared deeply about his employees. He devoted hours each Sunday to write handwritten thank-you notes to employees at every level who had delivered great customer service. It’s estimated that he wrote nearly 25,000 thank-you notes over his seven-year tenure! His deep care for his employees engaged, motivated, and inspired those around him.
Develop others’ skills and careers
What goes around comes around. As a manager and leader, you need to take the time to help develop others’ skills and careers if you want them to help you in the future.
What to do? First, you need to invest the time. You need to devote about eight hours per year per direct report outside of your typical job to develop them. This can be a hefty time investment, but it’s worth it. Decide what commitments you might need to give up to make time to develop your direct reports. Next, make sure you assess them in a fair and accurate way. Assess their current strengths and limitations, evaluate their competencies, and ask for feedback. Schedule 360-degree feedback reviews about every two years. This type of holistic review can help reveal overlooked areas for potential advancement. Put together a development plan that’s sound and grounded for all reports.
Also decide which areas of your own job you can delegate to others. As long as a task isn’t critical to your role, you can pass it off to others to advance their own potential. Remember that development isn’t always a warm, safe place. New initiatives and projects can be frightening to employees at first, especially if their boss previously led the project.
Example in practice: When my clients are asked by their bosses to work with me, many initially see development as a waste of time. Sometimes they feel too insecure to develop their direct reports out of fear that someday those reports will surpass them. But talent incubators are responsible for shaping powerful leaders, who in turn build strong, effective, dedicated, and loyal people who rush in to help or partner with them.
Nobody likes a passive or checked-out colleague, leader or business partner. Yet this is precisely what stress and inaction can reduce leaders to. “Just do it” should be your mantra, whatever “it” means to you.
What to do? To take action, you need to stop procrastinating. Procrastination is the enemy of forward movement. If you’re a procrastinator, take steps to avoid the trap of putting things off. Start earlier; set timed performance targets, and break your work into smaller manageable parts.
Taking action requires a high level of confidence. If you constantly second-guess your abilities, you need to build your confidence. Take a class or work with a coach to gain leadership competencies. Embrace your strengths and figure out how to use them to your advantage. When you’ve gained enough confidence, establish a set of best practices for organizing your week. Be diligent about your work ethic and habits.
Don’t be afraid to recruit others, but make sure you don’t delegate all your work to them. The whole point is for you to do something for somebody else. Work on building your social capital and persuading others to join you. Finally, taking action involves an honest understanding of your commitment level. It’s great to have work-life balance, but try to be flexible if it means helping others.
Example in practice: Many successful leaders procrastinate. It’s said that Leonardo da Vinci took more than 15 years to complete the Mona Lisa! Like da Vinci, Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom has struggled with procrastination and relies on a time-tested tactic to cope with it. Whenever he’s having trouble getting started on something, he commits to doing at least five minutes of it. Once he gets over the initial hump, he’s much more motivated to finish.