This is a guest post by Dr. Ashley Lesko, leader of Square Peg Solutions, a firm that specializes in leadership development.
Have you ever been anywhere where you felt you just didn’t belong? On the flip side, since you’ve been a leader, have you ever worked with people who you thought just couldn’t figure it out? They weren’t team players? If you’re like me, you’d say “Yep, that’s me” to all of the above. I could add a few more scenarios that I’ve experienced myself, but I believe you get the idea.
Outsiders are generally people who while part of a team, a department or an organization, don’t see themselves as part of that group. It could be that they have simply decided they don’t belong. However, most likely, that feeling of not belonging is caused by actions from the rest of the group and often the leader. Either way, it doesn’t help the organization, because it brings productivity, engagement, (you name it) down, especially for the outsiders.
Admittedly, as a leader, I have found myself distancing myself from the outsiders on my own team. Why? Because working with them requires me to to work a bit harder to get them to comply, move forward with a plan or do anything, really. It’s easier to just rely on the insiders for everything. The problem is, by doing that, I prevent valuable talent from contributing to my team and our organization.
If employees who work in the same location can create insiders and outsiders, imagine what can happen when an employee is truly outside of the office. It’s all too common for remote employees to feel like outsiders, specifically when the majority of the team is co-located. As a leader, you will have to put in the extra effort to ensure that every member feels like a part of the team and is granted the chance to contribute. Follow this advice to do so:
- Listen to employees. This may be easy in concept, but it’s hard in reality, especially when you don’t work in the same building. Still, it’s critical. If you avoid people, (ya know, by only communicating with them once a week via email) they’ll notice. Even if you think they are going to tell you something you’ll never use, let them talk. It will pay dividends in boosting their morale and confidence.
- Assess what they can bring to the table. Now that you’ve listened, how can you/the team/the organization benefit from their ideas? What are the unique talents or strengths they can contribute? Don’t ignore their knowledge or skills because it’s different from your own. For example, I’m not a huge fan of motorcycles for personal reasons, so if I was looking for ways to advertise a product and one of my employees proposed the use of motorcycles because she is an avid fan, I would initially want to shut her down. However, with her unique contribution (her knowledge of motorcycles) she could have an angle that would otherwise go unexplored. Tap into all your employees’ knowledge, skills and interests and you open up a world of possibilities. Plus, it’s a sure-fire way to make outsiders feel like they belong.
- Build relationships with each employee. Leadership is about people, not goals or numbers or bottom lines. Don’t let anyone else tell you differently. Even when you lead people who don’t share your values, whom you don’t see very often, or even those who rub you the wrong way, you must build (real) relationships with them. Will that be hard? Sure. Leadership is hard.
- Let them execute their ideas. You’ve listened, you’ve made them feel special. None of that works if you don’t let them have a chance to carry out their ideas. Ever had someone tell you that you had a great idea, only to completely ignore you after? It stinks, and it kills enthusiasm and morale. Don’t do that. Offer employees the opportunity to put their ideas into action.
Dr. Ashley Lesko has a multi-faceted background, from working in the military as a Naval Officer to leadership roles in Fortune 100 companies to educating students at colleges and universities. As a Surface Warfare Officer, she led hundreds of sailors and employees on ships on both coasts. After receiving her MBA at MIT, she filled various senior leadership roles at Amazon, working in operations, HR and finance. She now leads Square Peg Solutions, a firm that specializes in developing reliable leaders for mid-sized and large companies that may not have the resources or time to do so themselves. She teaches leadership, business and HR classes for Harvard Extension and Queens University.