As a front line worker I was feeling overwhelmed by the intensity and frequency of the calls and the never-ending line of students. I looked at the clock hoping the day was moving quickly, but it was only 10:30 am. On top of that, a colleague called in sick, so we were short staffed. The immediate needs weighed heavy and the day stretched out before me like an impenetrable fortress of doom.
Yes, I recognize that sounds dramatic, yet in that moment I felt I didn’t have time to breathe.
I went by my immediate supervisor’s office to work on an issue and I could see similar feelings etched on her face. Yet, what she did next was shocking.
She looked at me and asked how I was doing. She noticed me as a human with struggles. I felt seen. I felt valued. Especially when I could see she was having her own struggles.
I briefly stated the difficulties. She nodded her head and turned to her computer. What she did has become a rule in my personal leadership playbook.
She pulled up her calendar and moved things around so she could cover lunches. When colleagues called in sick, we generally took overlapping 30 minute lunches to cover customer service responsibilities. But she could see we were under pressure and insisted that we take the full hour lunch break while she took on the calls and the in-person inquiries.
She came out to the front area and stationed herself at a desk for two hours during one of the busiest times of the day so her team could recuperate.
She was with us.
Here’s what her actions did for me:
I felt valued and important. One doesn’t give of valuable resources, such as time, unless value exists.
We had a shared experience because she walked in our shoes. Now when a complaint reached her level, I knew she had context within which to be compassionate to both the “complaintee” and her direct report.
She could see the broken pieces of our processes. Even with continual revamping of processes, there are always ways to improve. I knew she could see those, as evidenced by her focus on improvement.
Be with your team.
Step in to answer phones.
Service the front desk.
Respond to the general email account.
Walk a mile in your people’s shoes.
Leaders often become distanced from the every day toils of positions in their care, even if they have risen through the ranks. This also distances those who fill those roles, causing reason for distrust.
To avoid this pitfall, be flexible and join your team in their day-to-day tasks, as it makes sense. You don’t have to wait for an emergency, it can be scheduled. This will inform you of the frustrations, the needs, and the specifics of each role.
Become part of your team through shared experiences. Shared experiences build trust. This is how fealty is born and maintained.
Here are three way to build and maintain trust on your team:
Justice: Insert yourself into daily processes frequently enough to see the injustices in the system. Encourage your team to look for the same. Then work together to fix it.
Compassion: Walking a mile in someone’s shoes creates an experiential knowledge that softens questions and understands more of the person in front of you. Never lose the ability to truly see your people.
Humility: No position on your team is beneath you. Yes, you may have garnered skills far above what a position may require, but unless you humble yourself to experience each position you cannot reach the deepest level of trust.