A poor relationship with an immediate supervisor is the No. 1 reason employees leave their jobs. Exiting employees often say, “The money and perks were fine, but my supervisor just didn’t understand me, and I don’t think they cared enough to try.”
This can happen because leaders fall into a rote way of rewarding their employees — often the same way they like to be rewarded — instead of asking, “What would you take as a true compliment regarding the project you just completed?” To avoid this problem, leaders should examine their own motivations. Whether one is trying to identify one’s own values, or coach others to find theirs, reflecting on the question, “Why do I care?” can facilitate employee development and support, and aid personal leadership development.
Values’ Role in Leadership
The ability to relate is a core competency for leadership success. For example, consider the following hypothetical scenario around leaders Mike and Don. Each came to the U.S. from other countries and has his own business. Each is interested in expanding his company, and is looking to hire a CFO. Lou is looking for a CFO position, one that matches his skills and values. He compares Mike’s organization with Don’s and likes both equally. The interview process helped him choose which was best for him.
Mike was motivated to come to the U.S. by a spirit of adventure and challenge and by the prospect of substantial rewards. Don came to find a better environment for his family and to make them proud. Both interviewed Lou and thought he had the skills necessary to make an outstanding CFO.
Mike called to make an offer. “Lou, you have all the right skills for the CFO position, and I can see this opportunity will bring you great challenges and beneficial rewards to put us back on top. Will you join us?”
Don also called to make an offer. “Lou, you have all the right skills for the CFO position, and I can see this role of helping our people with financial operations will be of benefit to many. Will you join us?”
Who does Lou go to work for? The monetary compensation was identical and therefore had no bearing. Had we listened in on the interviews we might have a better guess, but here is how Lou responded to one of the leaders: “Thank you. I too, see the role of CFO as a great challenge, and I look forward to creating results quickly and opening up new areas to tackle to be the best service provider in our market.”
Lou chose to work for Mike. Mike interpreted the CFO role as “opportunity with challenges and rewards to get back on top.” Those values resonated with Lou, and there was a better match than with Don, whose interpretation of the role was more altruistic and helpful.
Learning how to listen to and read others’ values can help enhance leadership effectiveness and the ability to retain and motivate employees. Don had a good delivery. It was kind and cordial, but it could be better, since communication lost him the candidate. The candidate was not looking to help others as a core value; he was looking for a challenge.
So much of our communication is just “good.” Communication skill training is often quite basic — ensuring the learner can send and receive messages effectively. But values alter that simple formula, often unconsciously.
In understanding one’s bias, a research focus for Elias Porter, a prominent psychologist, and colleague to Carl Rogers of Rogerian Psychology, Porter suggests there are four motives of relating and three blended motives. Each motive is made up of a particular value system. As a learning leader, knowing these systems can help to identify one’s own bias, and identify it in others, which in turn can be taught to other leaders in an organization. The seven motives are as follows:
1. Altruistic-nurturing: to help others.
2. Assertive-directing: to get results.
3. Analytic-autonomizing: creating order.
4. Flexible-cohering: team based and flexible.
5. Blend of 1 and 2.
6. Blend of 2 and 3.
7. Blend of 1 and 3.
In our earlier example, Mike was assertive-directing, whereas Don was altruistic-nurturing. The candidate Lou also was assertive-directing. What’s interesting is the role of CFO could appeal to any motivation. Two others also might apply:
• Analytic-autonomizing: “Lou, you have all the right skills for the CFO position, predominately bringing order and well-found systems to our organization. Will you join us?”
• Flexible-cohering: “Lou, you have all the right skills for the CFO position, which calls for flexibility in managing several departments and catering to a team-based outlook. Will you join us?”
In theory, this seems simple. But when daily pressures and timelines beg for action, leaders can fall prey to their own values, which are always front and center; they forget to inquire what’s important to others. The leader must put him or herself out to learn about a follower’s values, step into their role to uncover what is important to that individual and have a conversation from there.
Changing the Conversation
The first step in sincere motivation is to identify values. Leaders communicate their values whether they realize it or not, so they must take command of messages to create leadership and influence where it did not exist. There are several assessments in the marketplace that measure values. For instance, Porter developed an instrument called the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI).
The second step is to develop a stronger listening ear. Far too often leaders hear words but miss values. Ask questions: “I hear you want this to happen, why is it so important for you?” and “What will this bring if you achieve it?” Careful listening reveals the answers as well as the values behind them.
To illustrate how careful listening can make a difference, consider the following work scenario: There is a backlog of work in the internal IT department. Each of the following employees needs his or her computer fixed as soon as possible. The IT director phones each employee saying, “I hear you need this right away. Tell me what the most frustrating part of this is for you.”
Margaret answers, “My integrity. I’ve promised customers their projects by the end of today. I don’t want to go back on my word.”
Bill answers, “I’ve promised my boss this project will be complete today, and I’m concerned he’ll be upset, and make others upset around me.”
The question was identical, but each employee had his or her own urgent reason. Margaret’s stemmed from analytic-autonomizing, and Bill’s from altruistic-nurturing.
A third step is to lead by communicating what values are important to others. With that in mind, the IT director might respond as follows:
“Margaret, I can understand the importance of not wanting to lose integrity, and I appreciate that about you. I know when you tell me something it will be done. We have a backlog today, so what data or information would be sufficient for you if we don’t have it done today?”
“Thanks for sharing that with me, Bill. I really don’t want others upset either. They are all trying to do their jobs, and I hear you really want to support your boss and must feel worried about it. Today in particular is a rough day for us as we have folks working double shifts. I really want to help.”
The objective is to relate, not to solve the problem. Once relating begins, the problem can be solved. But too often leaders assume others are concerned with the same values they hold, miss this opportunity and set the stage for unintentional conflict.
Consider one last scenario. Lee is a natural strategist and was hired for this skill, yet when working with others he sometimes doesn’t “get” people. Lee wants Michelle’s input, which would take about four hours. Lee strategized what he was going to say, which included a “what’s in it for you” speech containing ideas on how it could help others and be of benefit to employees and customers alike. After this execution of his strategy, Michelle said, “Lee, hey, I didn’t need all these reasons. I like you, I trust you, and I would have helped had you just asked me. That’s just my nature.” Lee had an “a-ha” moment — speaking to others’ values may save him some time in the future. In this case, his usual practice to strategize, think through all scenarios and have cases for any objection was unnecessary. All he had to do was ask.
It is possible to achieve one’s goals by communicating those goals in ways that appeal to others’ values. A leader has followers. Followers follow when their values are supported. So ask your leaders: Will they allow their leadership to motivate others in ways that are important to them? Will they create an environment where all are motivated to be there but for different reasons? It takes courage to acknowledge others’ ways of seeing things and accepting that their values are important, but it’s a paradigm shift worth exploring.
Tina Mertel is a facilitator and consultant on using values in leadership and coaching. She is the author of Meaningful Coaching, and can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.