As you contemplate Valentine's Day, contemplate your team members.
Valentine's Day is a time to express love, and while most of us shy away from connecting that concept to colleagues – some leaders deliberately try not to be friends with direct reports and romantic relationships are off-limits – Indianapolis consultant Kevin Eikenberry believes this is a good time to show you care and they matter.
"Adults are just kids in big bodies," he said in an interview. Adults are fragile, still worrying whether they fit in. So take some time to show they do. As well, Valentine's Day can be tough for some people, and while the attention and care you display will not replace the affection that may be missing in their lives, it can help when appropriately conveyed.
There may be times when your teammates frustrate you, and so his talk of love may seem a touch overboard. But in a Valentine's Day blog post last year, he admitted: "I love my wife; she has a list of wonderful traits, attributes and abilities longer than I could list. And yet, if I am honest with you … there are things about her that frustrate and challenge me. For my love to be full though, I must recognize and embrace those things as a part of the total package of who she is."
Same with your teammates. They might frustrate you at times, but that duality of appreciation and frustration is just part of the human condition – human beings, and their relationships, he says, are "messy."
Here are five specific dualities for leaders to consider:
Love your purpose/embrace mistakes
We should understand the purpose of our work and dedicate ourselves to that higher end. At the same time, we need to realize that perfection won't occur. If you haven't heard of a mistake from your team in the past three days, he says they're probably engaging in a form of corporate subterfuge, hiding it from you and preventing others from learning from the error. Alternatively, they aren't making mistakes because they are playing it too safe. When they make a mistake, your emotions will be stirred, but as he said in the interview: "Don't let your emotions show as anger. That sends a message to hold back. You need to communicate you care about the purpose, but not so much that mistakes can't be acknowledged."
Love your team/embrace conflict
He stresses he's not talking romantic or physical love, but caring and trust. Still, conflict is inevitable, and when properly handled, helpful. You need differing views to help you improve and innovate. "Don't squash conflict. Resolve it," he says.
Love coaching/embrace learning
Being a coach and developing others is an essential role for leaders. You are taking the organization to a place it hasn't been and that will require new skills for everyone – including yourself. So embrace learning, to improve your own skills and show others what's expected from the team. "Are you attending as many learning sessions as they are?" he asks. In the preparatory e-mails his 12-person team shares before their weekly meeting, each is expected to indicate one thing – from work or personal life – they learned that week. It keeps them focused on learning, and the personal sharing knits them together.
Love your customers/embrace questions
If you don't love your customers, you can't serve them as fully as they deserve. And that requires being willing to ask them questions to understand their concerns, correct problems, and deliver what they haven't even thought of asking for yet. "Questions are a powerful means of relationship-building and communication – both of which we need to do with customers every day," he writes.
Love change/embrace resistance
We all need to adjust and improve. When change leads to resistance, view that as better than apathy. It's a sign of energy – engagement and commitment. "You can't do anything with apathy. With resistance, we can get past it," he said in the interview. Acknowledge the person's concerns – you don't have to agree – and see what kind of accommodation can be achieved to move ahead.
On Valentine's Day and the days leading up to it, we should take time to express our intentions – our appreciation and love of our romantic partner and our family. Extend that this year to your team.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter