Just Ask

Just asl

For the last five years, I have spent Christmas holiday in Puerto Rico. In addition to spending time with family, it is a time to “recharge my battery.” I disconnect, for the most part, from my devices and corresponding communications and focus on resting. It is something I didn’t learn to do until the last few years and a practice that is important for all of us to embrace. As the adage goes, if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of others.

There is a countdown to the final days on the island and a rush to make sure we get to our favorite coffee houses and restaurants—since for the most part we fill our days with eating and walking and sleeping. Reality begins to really creep in as we travel to the airport for our journey home and back to work.

This year, as we were waiting for our plane, I passed a customer service desk that said in both English and Spanish: Just Ask. First impression was, “What a great message to customers!” I passed other similar desks which all had the same message—Just Ask. They had something else in common. NO ONE was manning them. By the third time, my impression changed from “great message” to “OK, who do I ask?”

Expectations can turn to frustrations

Somewhere in my unconscious, before reading their sign, there was awareness that if help was needed, it would be provided. However, that awareness became an expectation when it was so boldly announced, not once, not twice, but three times throughout the terminal. When I could not find someone at these desks to help me, there was not just disappointment, but also frustration bordering on anger. Why invite me to ask, if no one is going to be there to answer? They had promised me something and then did not deliver. Better not to promise or offer at all.

Value the Questions

The same idea applies to leadership. There is an unwritten contract between leaders and their teams. Each has their own perception of what to expect from the other—an internal perception based on experiences. Those perceptions become more concrete when either side makes a commitment to the other to do something or act in a certain way. At that point, when there is no follow through, simple disappointment (still a problem that needs to be addressed) becomes festering frustration. This frustration erodes relationships. Leadership is about relationships.

A great way to build relationships is to create a culture where questioning and asking is encouraged and valued. Questions empower people. Answering questions demonstrates you value people. Questions and answers help clarify and clarifying prevents mistakes and miscommunication. It prevents drift and helps keep the focus on what needs to be done to achieve objectives.

Some Dos

Do make yourself available and approachable —giving clear information and allowing for questions upfront saves time down the road.

Do reflect on what you want to offer your staff, how you will provide it and the why. This prepares you for sharing your ideas with people. Tie everything to building relationships and achieving objectives.

Do be clear about your expectations of staff. Be specific. Give examples of both what you want and what you don’t want. Encourage questions. Have your staff verify and explain what they heard. Listen to feedback and when appropriate adjust your expectations.

Do ask your staff to express their expectations of you—ask questions and clarify when there is a difference in thinking. Again, listen to their input and be open to change.

If you offer support, make sure you have the resources needed and can follow through, and then…FOLLOW THROUGH. Broken trust is more difficult to rebuild than establishing trust in the first place. Broken trust destroys relationships.

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