Wait. Did you just give all your team members the same size t-shirt?
Just like you’re wanting simpler experiences from everyone else, your people need a simpler experience from you. And a simple experience moves from a one-size-fits-all leadership approach to a flexible leadership approach.
In fact, I talk about flexible leadership being one of the key practices you can instill to curb your team’s Great Resignation in this SIMPLE brand With Matt Lyles podcast episode.
If you’ve been following me for a while, then hopefully you know that empathy is key to delivering simple experiences to your people. Once you’ve instilled empathy into your leadership, it makes it a lot easier for you to become more flexible in how you lead them.
Gone are the days of a rigid environment, with rigid procedures and rigid processes - just because “we’ve always done it this way” or even worse - because from your viewpoint “this is how I want it done, and it’s my way or the highway.”
I hear from too many leaders who tend to operate under a one-size-fits-all approach with their people. If that's how you operate, it's like you're giving out t-shirts to all of your team members, and because you happen to wear a 2XL you just say that everyone gets a 2XL. A 2XL is not going to fit everyone. Some people need a Small. Some people need a Medium. Some people may even be allergic to the fabric you're offering.
But if you’re practicing empathy, that allows you to more easily understand where and how your people need flexibility in how you lead them.
Michael Solomon and Rishon Blumberg call this being a “bespoke boss” in their book, Game Changer: How to be 10x in the Talent Economy.
If you’re going to be a bespoke boss - if you're going to be a bespoke leader - it’s going to take more than simply considering and acknowledging that your people have personal lives.
You need to be the leader who knows enough about your people’s personal lives to make considerations when managing them.
You need to be the leader who cares about your people’s aspirations, not just in their role, but in their career plans and personal life plans, and you need to care about how they’re performing across those.
You need to be the leader who works hard to ensure that each person you lead has the optimal work environment for them to be fully productive and fully effective.
So what does this type of flexibility look like?
There are a number of ways to provide flexibility, and it’s only limited by your imagination and even your people’s imagination.
Around halfway into my career, I took a new role with a new supervisor. Once I was in the role - before my first official meeting with her - she had me fill out a form that she provides to all of her people. I answered questions all around my personal life, my family, my favorite things (you know - fried chicken, vinyl, R.E.M., graphic novels, the Marvel Cinematic Universe). These were personal questions that I was comfortable answering, of course. None of this was for her to pry. It was for her to better understand me.
It also had questions regarding my personality and tendencies - things that I had come to know through various self assessments (I'm assuming you figured out I'm an ENFP on the Myers-Briggs Indicator?). These helped her understand how I worked, and how we could better work together.
But one of the most noteworthy items in this form was around how I liked to be recognized and rewarded in my role. She understood that not everyone likes to be recognized and rewarded in the same way. Some people like public praise, others hate public praise and prefer to be praised in private one-on-one, some like to be praised via email, others like to be praised via handwritten notes. Some like rewards like branded merchandise. Some like a Starbucks gift card.
The eye-opening point here for me - and for you - is that she understood that recognizing and rewarding your people is not a one-size-fits all approach. She understood the need and the value of offering flexibility.
So if you want your employees to not only stick around, but to also be more productive, to be more effective - you have to provide them with flexibility.
And you don’t have to be in an official leadership position to provide this flexibility to your people. You can provide this regardless of your role.
I’m sure you’re familiar with The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
Sure, there’s great intention behind this rule, but I’d like for you to consider The Platinum Rule: "Do unto others as they would want to be done to them."
Following The Platinum Rule means making sure you know how the people around you want to be treated and treating them that way.
Now that’s not to say that you need to cater to everyone’s whims to your detriment. But if you want to attract high performers, and if you want to retain high performers, you need to empathize with and truly understand your people and find those ways that you can offer flexibility.
If you're currently leading your people with a one-size-fits-all approach, it's okay. I get it. You're doing what you've always been taught. But now is the time to learn something new to place in your leadership toolbox: the ability to lead with flexibility and not by a one-size-fits-all approach.
You've got this!
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