Make sure you are listening
Many different takes on the structure of communication highlight the importance of listening: listening is half of communicating, listen twice as much as you talk, etc.
And active listening is, in my experience and opinion, a key piece of connecting with others AND something that can be learned and practiced and improved upon (and will make you a better business person at any level of business).
But I want to aim your attention to a different kind of listening -- not just the general communication skill, but the focus you put towards your teams.
And I very specifically want people who are managers above multiple levels to take this to heart.
People in workplaces have a hard time most of the time speaking about problems that they spot with the levels above them. Fear of being fired for having an opinion or getting lashed out at or punished for not thinking the higher levels are operating perfectly is pervasive.
And I am going to be honest with you -- no one is operating perfectly. Just because you have been given power does not mean you are using it well or right or doing your own best -- it just means you were given power. It doesn't even necessarily mean that you were the most qualified for that job.
And it absolutely doesn't mean you are better than the people below you or even that you have more knowledge than them. Again, it just means that you were given power.
So I want to pose a few questions for you to ponder:
1. Am I listening to the individuals with expertise in the organization, no matter where they fall in the hierarchy? Am I bringing them to the table? Are the other management levels doing so, also? If not, what can we do to help encourage that atmosphere and change that?
Note: The experts in your group, if you don't listen to their expertise or invite them to share it, will leave. They know (and you should also know) that there is no point in having them there if you don't want to listen to them.
2. Am I assuming that I am hearing about the problems in the levels below me from my lower managers? Am I trying to find out more about possible problems? Am I scared to manage my managers? Are the people at the bottom of the hierarchy comfortable talking to me and, if they aren't, why not? And if they are, am I really hearing them? Am I really willing to listen, knowing that it is often harder and more frightening for them to come to me?
Note: I have had mid-level managers say to me that they both don't know what the managers below them are doing and don't want to micro-manage those individuals when presented with information about what was going on in their organization. Don't be this person. It is your responsibility to listen even harder at what is being said, not to ignore it. If managing managers is part of your job, don't shrug it off when concerns bubble up.
3. What am I doing to grow the management skills of my managers at all levels? Am I supporting new managers with skills development and mentorships? Am I checking in with my more experienced managers to make sure they continue to grow and develop and haven't become complacent? Am I pushing them to be more connected to the people aspect of our business? Am I pushing myself to continue to develop my managerial skills? And is it all more than just a discussion in a managers' meeting? Are there real "teeth" in the push for growth?
Note: Growth should be a constant push, and if you find yourself not wanting to encourage growth in your teams and managers, I would challenge you to ask yourself why?
4. Am I listening hard for the fears and concerns of my team at all levels right now? And am I doing my best to be honest, approachable, and caring right now?
Note: It is a challenging time right now, and many people are concerned with whether their jobs will still be there or are disappearing. Don't throw around the term "RIF" if you are in management. Don't vent to the levels below you about your concerns unless it is something they need to know. And make sure you listen carefully to their concerns, when they do bubble up, and especially when they aren't spoken. Often a team gets very quiet when the external environment gets very frightening. Listen harder then.
Listen. Then listen some more. Then find new ways to listen. And make sure you really hear it all -- make sure you are responsive and don't ignore what you hear. Your teams and your organization will be happier and healthier for it.