3 Stories Leaders Need to Know About Employees
Stories unlock answers to challenges leaders must overcome. To hire the right people, get them to stay, and continue to perform above expectations, start by learning these three stories leaders need to know about employees.
3 Stories Leaders Need to Know About Employees
Strategies you’ve heard that promise to help you recruit, retain, and lead great employees — but allow no room for individual customization — likely won’t work for leading the current and future workforce. Why? Our economy and diversity. The workforce is more diverse than ever — education, experiences, expectations, and more. In our economy, people have access to hundreds of thousands of jobs just a click away on their phones. Empirical evidence suggests that leaders who take an individualistic approach to lead their team will ultimately be much more successful than those who don’t.
How do leaders know how to lead whom? Storytelling and story seeking. When it comes to understanding how to lead people, stories tell you what statistics can’t. Stories capture attention, are memorable, and are personal. Stories break down barriers and build bonds.
Storytelling and story seeking shouldn’t be random. Instead, it must be intentional. Here are 3 stories every leader needs to know about employees.
Unless something extremely significant happens, most of how we show up in the workplace is shaped by what we experienced growing up. As a child and young adult, we learned how to build relationships, respond to rejection, achieve success, deal with conflict, work as a team, and more.
One story you might share and seek would be the story about how you/they learned their work ethic.
Think about this…
- My husband learned from his dad that showing up and working hard — even when it’s not convenient — will end up earning you experience, success, and respect for decades to come. From a leadership perspective, if an employee grew up learning a strong work ethic and realizing the benefits, it’s a safe assumption that they’ll show up with a strong work ethic throughout their time in the workforce, too.
- On the other hand, I grew up with parents who did not work. I saw, felt, and lived the negative effects of that. I never want that for myself or my family. As a leader, if you have an employee that was dealt a tough hand and they overcame, it’s likely they’ll continue that same positive trajectory going forward.
- It could be that you are interviewing a potential candidate. If you ask them where/how they learned their work ethic and they have no response, this could potentially be a red flag or sign of challenges to come from a dependability or performance perspective.
A leader who understands an employee’s past can predict and prepare for how the employee will act in the future.
Many organizations do exit interviews. Fewer organizations have implemented “stay interviews”. It’s important for leaders to know what keeps an employee showing up and giving their best so you can make sure you don’t stop doing what they’re liking…whether it’s the way you give feedback, the flexibility their position offers, etc.
A story you might share and seek would be the story about what a perfect day in their work-life would look like.
One employee may be quick to tell you that they would come in, keep their head down, do their job, not hear from anyone, and get to leave on time. Another employee might tell you that they’d want to be involved in many different projects, interacting with lots of different people, and wrap the day up with a one-on-one meeting with you to discuss progress. Ultimately, you may hear little nuggets from the employee about when, how, or what they need from you.
A leader who understands why their employees stay is more likely to never have to watch them leave.
Do you know where you and your employees want to be in one, five, ten years? If you haven’t had a personal conversation about this in the past year or two, now would be a great time as we’re coming off 2020 and kicking off 2021.
To get them to tell you a story, ask them to tell you a story about what success will look like to them after ten more years.
Someone may surprise you and tell you that they picture themselves being an entrepreneur. As a leader, you need to know if someone is not in it for the long haul. Another employee may tell you that they want to be a leader in a different department in the organization. As their leader, there’s your sign that you should start giving them opportunities to grow, as well as, making time to develop their replacement when they get promoted.
When a leader understands the destination, they can make plans to take roads to get their team there faster, better, stronger.
The One Time Leaders Should Talk Before They Listen
If you’ve ever been in our comprehensive leadership development program, you know how critical it is for leaders to listen first. However, this may be the one time that I suggest that leaders should actually talk first.
People are more willing to share personal, insightful stories with people they trust. Before you jump straight into asking employees about their stories, start by sharing yours. When you intentionally open up to people about your life, they’ll feel you trust them more. In turn, they’ll be more likely to feel they can trust you, too.
Ever had an employee share a really eye-opening story with you? If you can, I’d love to hear about your experience. Leave a comment below!
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