Several weeks ago I recalled a series of interactions that I had with a front line associate around 2010 that really had a lasting impact on me and my leadership. I’ll call the associate Suzy. Suzy was ‘strong willed’ and a quiet leader among her fellow team members. We’re all familiar with the associate that leadership is nervous to hold accountable, or to challenge, because the leaders know exactly what they are going to get in return. Suzy fit that mold.

At this specific piece of business I used to round on my staff each morning on my way to get coffee, so I pretty much took the exact same route each day. My route was designed to ensure I engaged with each staff member every day. One day Suzy stopped me and asked me why I spoke to everyone except her. This caught me by surprise because I knew that I spoke to her every day as I did the other associates. I immediately apologized and told her it wasn’t intentional and just went on with my day.

As my day continued I kept thinking about that interaction. I started to recall my daily rounding from recent days and I remembered specifically that I did indeed speak to her as I did the other associates. I took it upon myself to approach her again and clarify that I did indeed speak to her daily during my morning rounds. I wasn’t coming from a contentious place, I just wanted her to know that I was making an effort to relate to her. Suzy countered with certainty that I did not speak to her. At this point I was really bothered by this situation.

As I continued to reflect I realized that even though I did say good morning to Suzy as I did everyone else, I was not spending as much time with her as I did the other associates. I had common interests with the other staff members and we spent time engaging each day on those interests after our standard, “good morning, how are you doing today?” This was lacking in my relationship with Suzy. I realized that ‘Good Morning’ to Suzy meant more than Good Morning.’

I made a commitment the following day to try and find some common ground between us, something to build on. It didn’t go as smooth as I’d hoped, but eventually we started to talk about her daily product specials. Suzy was proud of her work and in her ingenuity in designing daily specials to help drive sales. When I started asking how her daily specials were performing she would light up and become energized. She felt validated on a different level.

Within three weeks Suzy would stop by my office on her way out of the door to say goodbye to me and exchange pleasantries. A major shift occurred in Suzy. Her overall demeanor was different. She started to become a positive leader among her fellow staff members.

I could have dismissed Suzy early on because I knew that I was not guilty of the charge she made. I’m glad for Suzy’s sake, and mine, that I took a different approach. I know for sure that I was not consciously aware of all of the dynamics of my actions during my exchanges with Suzy. I did know however, that if I just shrugged it off and kept doing the same thing Suzy would be impacted.

I’m glad she spoke up.

I’m glad I listened.

The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth

Communication Consult Clover SC

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