In a recent conversation with a colleague, we pondered the most important questions to ask to help evaluate the quality of a relationship. Admittedly, at the time we were discussing a romantic relationship, but as the conversation continued, we realized the same questions could be applied by leaders who want to understand their impact on a team and the individuals who comprise it.
Broadly, the questions fall into three experiences that are key for creating fulfilling workplace relationships:
- A feeling of safety within the relationship
- Feeling appreciated for your contributions
- Experiencing personal and professional growth through workplace relationships
Your leadership effectiveness and legacy are determined by your capacity to create these experiences for each of the people reporting to you. At the same time, doing so challenges you to be both courageous enough and vulnerable enough to ask important questions, and then act on the answers to help your team thrive.
Let’s unpack each experience and the questions that underpin them.
Much has been researched and written about psychological safety in the workplace and what is required to achieve it. I discussed the stages of psychological safety at length in a previous article, but suffice it to say that a huge factor in establishing safety lies in your ability to earn positive responses from your direct reports to three simple questions:
- Do you feel seen by me?
- Do you feel heard?
- Do you feel respected?
At the core of all healthy relationships, professional or personal, is for each person to feel recognized and respected in their interactions with others. While you may believe you have created a culture of safety in your workplace, focusing on these fundamental, important questions with your team will enhance it. Understanding what each person needs to feel seen, heard, and respected is the first step to doing so.
Explore these questions in your next 1:1 meeting with the members of your team. Don’t wait for the annual performance review cycle to have this important conversation. Their answers may surprise you.
Every organization has myriad ways in which to demonstrate appreciation for an individual’s contributions. Most often, they come in the form of promotions, pay raises and awards, or other tangible forms of recognition. Yet, appreciation viewed through a relationship lens challenges leaders to reduce the complex equation of recognition to its most basic factors.
Two fundamental questions to ask your team that will reveal the degree to which they feel appreciated are:
Do I make you feel that your opinions carry weight?
Spoiler alert: If you have team members that contribute their thoughts during a meeting, and you allow others to consistently dominate the conversation, it’s likely the answer to this question will not be positive. Making space for all voices to be heard is a critical leadership responsibility. Without it, you won’t have all the best input to make informed decisions.
Do I acknowledge your contributions openly and often?
This is not something left to a year-end recognition program. Instead, it something that happens in your daily interactions with each team member. What you say in the moment carries more weight than an award bestowed six months later.
A hallmark of a strong relationship is that each person within it feels as if they are growing, learning and evolving in a positive way. Don’t assume that sending an employee to a few training courses a year is sufficient to engender a sense of growth and expansion, or support their engagement in the job.
Growth comes from consistent investment in helping employees discover what the world’s top executive leadership coach, Marshall Goldsmith, would call their “one-trick genius.”
In his new book, “The Earned Life: Lose Regret, Choose Fulfillment,” Goldsmith describes the concept of a “one-trick genius” as that one thing that at which you’re really good and feel you were meant to do. You not only enjoy doing that particular thing, but are sought out and recognized by others for your “genius.”
When you discover and develop your one-trick genius, your true specialty, you are dedicated to excellence in that area of expertise and the process of continual learning that will keep you at the top of your game. It’s also your conduit to fulfillment.
As a leader, one of your most significant responsibilities is to help members of your team learn and improve, so ask:
- Do you feel like you are growing in this role?
- Have you discovered your one-trick genius, and what can I do to support you in doing so?
- Are we capitalizing on your genius in your current role?
Exploring these relationship questions and applying what you learn to how you lead your team can open the door to creating a thriving work environment. Are you brave enough to begin the conversation?
This article was first published in SmartBrief on Leadership, May 2022.