Paul Harvey was famous for his stories on radio that always ended with a twist ending. He always followed up his reports with his famous catchphrase:
"...and now you know the REST of the story."
My team member Ayla has her own catchphrase that I have learned over the past year. She states:
"You never know what is going on behind the scenes of each persons life. Everyone can put on a front, but you never know what is happening behind the scenes."
As a leader, this came true for me today. I began this morning in a great mood. The sun was out, the air was crisp, and traffic was a breeze coming in to work.
As usual, I like to say hello and check-in with people around the office. I began my Monday routine with be saying "Good morning! How are you?" to three co-workers. Their responses are below...
Co-worker #1: "Not so good. You know the story of the man who killed his wife and baby up in Huntsville this weekend. I went to high school with the wife. She was my really good friend, and we were a small tight knit group."
Co-worker #2: "Not so good. My dad in is the hospital and we soon will have to tell him that we are going to place him and my mom in an assisted living facility."
Co-worker #3: "Not so good. I got a text last night that my son's high school basketball teammate committed suicide yesterday. He was only 18, and has an older and younger brother. The family is devastated."
I think that we as leaders need to be prepared for these type of answers. Here are three things we can do to lead our teams...
1. Be prepared to listen
I had every intention of getting right to work this morning. I had things I had to do. But instead I found myself doing nothing but listening for about 90 minutes. This was more important than answering e-mails or starting the paperwork. If you ask your employees or team members how they are doing, be prepared for the truth.
If you do not want the truth, then don't ask! Just say "good morning" and go about your business. But when you open the door with "how are you?", you'd better be prepared to listen.
2. Be prepared to NOT share your opinions
When tragedy or heartache strike, the last thing your team members want is your opinion (unless they ask for it). As leaders, we are bred to problem solve. We want to tell them what they need to do to feel better or fix the issue. But they may not want a solution. They just want an ear.
Put your desire to solve problems on the back burner. Just make eye contact, lean forward, show interest and listen.
3. Be prepared to flex
All three of these employees are not going to be functioning at 100% today. They will be calling friends, answering texts and processing thoughts and feelings all day. Be prepared to let that happen.
The worse thing you can do is expect normal productivity. The best thing might be to let them know to get as much done as they can, and then head home. Perhaps you give them a longer break or a longer lunch.
Find out what they need to get through the day, and then provide it for them. That's what great leaders do.
Leaders, remember this: Every life has a story, and we need to be ready every day to hear it.