Bob Ingram popped into my head over the weekend, and I attribute that directly to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Somehow, I think a little background might be in order.
Bob was a legendary executive for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) who retired a few years back. Not coincidentally, the training center on GSK’s RTP campus is named in his honor. In a nutshell, Bob loved everything about training, but had a noticeable interest in (and passion for) orientation training. As a C-suite speaker at a new-hire graduation ceremony, I would offer that Bob was without peer.
When he spoke, he crystalized the importance of the role each new employee was about to play. Before they did so, he had some advice which they were free to take … or completely ignore. And, much to the temporary chagrin of the training professionals in the room, that advice sounded something like this:
“Forget everything you have just learned … or perhaps more accurately, put it to the side for a little while. When you introduce yourself to the people you will be working with, leverage the skills you undoubtedly exhibited when you were being interviewed. Pay sincere attention to people! Listen like you have never listened before! Find out what’s on their minds! Understand how you can help them and what you need to learn before you start regurgitating everything you learned in the last 90 days from our talented trainers.”
Consider that imagery as you continue to fulfill your leadership role in this most uncertain of times. Forget what you know or think you know! What can you do to reintroduce yourself to the members of your team and transparently explore the realities of navigating a pandemic? There is a very strong probability this is the first time, they—or you—have ever had to figure something like this out!
In the spirit of Bob’s advice, begin at the beginning! In so doing, consider the long-term impact of open-ended inquiries with significant degrees of freedom as a place to start:
- “How are you and your family?”
- “What’s on your mind?”
- “What has surprised you most?”
After you have inquired, pay sincere attention! Listen! Avoid the temptation to “jump in and start regurgitating everything you know” (or in this case … what you think you might know!). The objective for this exchange is to have a thoughtful discussion grounded in transparent integrity. Put another way, you want to expand your reservoir of trust with each person if it exists … or use these unique circumstances to establish one if it doesn’t. The people on your team know that sooner or later the two of you will be talking about updated goals and productivity targets, but it will be so much more impactful if you do that on their invitation, as opposed to your own.
- Think about who you will need to influence during these unprecedented times. With what questions will you start your conversations to build that trust?
- From a specific goal or productivity target you are managing, what outcome do you expect to receive based on the first question?