Writing in Harvard Business Review, Rosabeth Moss Kanter writes about the four key messages a good leader should convey to their own staff while making public communications (‘Every Leader’s Real Audience‘ – Jan 30, 2014). The one that stuck with me the most is this:
“I care about your work. Your work is important.”
I cannot agree more that leaders should be able to demonstrate that they care about the work of their teams. It can very easily inspire people to feel that their work is valued by those in leadership positions. But that message can so easily get lost in the other demands on a leader’s time.
In a former job we had a visit from our CEO to a HR department meeting, which was a wonderful chance to get to know him a bit better, pick his brain, and find out what he really wanted for our organisation. In a Q&A session at the end of the meeting my colleague asked the CEO what he wanted from us as a department, whether there was anything he wanted more of or for us to change? His answer was short and simple: ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing.’ And with that faces fell around the room. It became immediately apparent that our CEO didn’t have any more of an answer than that. And that was because he didn’t actually know what we did. Which also implied that he didn’t really care.
So with one sentence all meaning and sense of purpose in our work was pretty much dashed. What’s the point in striving to do a good job if the boss isn’t really bothered about it?
As Kanter points out, leaders should be aware when speaking publicly that their people are listening very intently: ‘They want to know whether to update their resumes or renew their commitment to the work.’ Leaders should also be aware when speaking directly to their people, and take any small opportunity to communicate that they care.