Have you seen this image before?

No alt text provided for this image

If you do, you’re among the many Canadians who have participated in the Cadet program during the course of your life, as I did.

This image leads into the Air Cadet Principles of Leadership educational material. The principles were modeled from the Canadian Forces (CF) at the time:

  • Lead by Setting a Good Personal Example
  • Develop Qualities of Leadership in your (People)
  • Make Sound and Timely Decisions
  • Train your (People) to Work as a Team
  • Communicate your Ideas and Thoughts Clearly
  • Keep your (People) Informed of all Events
  • Take Initiative
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses
  • Treat your people as you would like to be treated yourself
  • Know your people and promote their welfare

The last one is where I want to focus here for a moment.

No alt text provided for this image

While this text may be a bit robotic, you can see the underlying thought: you have to know your people and look out for their best interests. Think about the best organization you know: do they do this? Think about the worst organization you know… probably not, right?

While the principles above are still sound today in any organization, this one is especially important. Whether you are talking about organizations like churches or the workplace, where 85% of people are not engaged or are actively disengaged from work (and around 66% of managers, according to Gallup’s James Harter), it is necessary that leaders work to understand what their people need and want to maximize engagement.

I would suggest something akin to the following:

Connect intentionally.

Scalability can be a problem, of course, but knowing what is happening in your employee’s lives can be the difference maker.

Think about it: you just arrived at the office. Your kids were a complete disaster this morning, culminating in the catapulting of cereal all over the first outfit you had chosen for the day, while your significant other had left the door open *again* and didn’t organize the trip tickets like you had asked and now you don’t know if you can go and you’re in a bit of mini existential crisis.


Now imagine it’s your employee that has come in having that experience, and you bust in the door with your priorities: “I need this report done now: you were supposed to have it for me yesterday! What’s wrong with you?” Imagine how productive that conversation will be and imagine how your employee is going to respond. YIKES.

The opposite, in this scenario, is that you walk in and you start by saying, “Good morning! How are you doing today? Is everything okay?” When you lead with empathy and curiosity, not demands, you create bridges for real connection.

Build trust.

In a recent comment from John Paul Engel (a university lecturer and consultant for companies around the globe), he shared:

The leader has to sacrifice first regardless of their title… What I found is that you have to win the trust of your team mates by giving them quick wins in the transitions. You’ve got to give them ownership and recognition. I would often do this quick side projects using my analytical skills, research ability, or just Excel skills to give team members wins. When they felt I was on their side they were on my side about 85% of the time. The leader has to sacrifice first. As a consultant I had no formal power yet without the team projects could not succeed. Inspire people to do their best work. It is in change that the greatest opportunities for advancement and growth occur.

What’s especially interesting is how we forge trust with one another. Part of that can come from connecting intentionally (as above), and it can be catalyzed when we consider: what can I sacrifice for the good of my team? How can I make them successful as a mechanism to build trust?

In situations where you don’t know the other person, a commitment to consistency may be what is required to dispel feelings of distrust and uncertainty.

Ask questions to understand.

One of the most dangerous moments in any workplace is forwarding to specific assumptions, based on what has been said, unsaid, or even based on your own bias.

The “Jump to Conclusions Mat” may have been helpful for Tom in the movie, but by and large, when we don’t first ask questions to understand someone in the workplace, we rob all parties of the ability to work through normal processing of emotions that lead to healthier outcomes. The ideal is asking questions to allow you to systemically walk through each stage and check your feelings versus the facts/realities of the situation.

Processing emotions

Credit: Will Meek

Create conditions for success and engagement.

As we discussed in building trust, a good leader must look for opportunities to create success for their people. This can be rather holistic in nature:

  • Allow employees to come and go as needed to help them balance work/life integration.
  • If employees have particular sensitivities to noise, light, colours or some other form of sensory input, fix it. You could ask a question like, “Are there specific things that detract from helping you do your best work?” The answer could be as simple as it being too cold.
  • Ensure your staff have the resources they need to be successful on projects. Maybe you have someone that is in charge of marketing and they need specialized training on SEO: send them. Or, maybe it’s an employee’s first job and they’re trying to figure out what works best for them: guide them.

Whatever your employees have for variables in their job, whether it’s the people, the physical environment or the demands/workload, by actively knowing where they are and what they are feeling, you can help set them up for success. This doesn’t mean you can’t stretch goals or challenging goals for your people: on the contrary, you can set those targets and you ensure that – to the best of your knowledge – they have what they need (and what they think they need) to accomplish them.

When an employee is given a goal, and when they know that you’ve got their back, that will typically give them the confidence to accomplish it.

Know your followers (and everyone else) and promote their welfare: we’re better together.

At the end of the day, we all want to know that someone cares about us: it’s hardwired. Whether you’re the CEO, front line with customers or anywhere else, everyone needs a breath of positive air in their lungs to get through the day. Given how much of our lives we give to work, it’s vital that we communicate readily to our staff, colleagues and peers alike that we care about them and that we want them to be successful.

I can remember as a young cadet leader wanting to apply these to the best of my abilities, especially the principle of knowing your followers and promoting their welfare. While I failed then (more than once), and still fail today (more on that in my recent post, Leadership Comes to Fourth and Goal), the point is that we have to be intentional about making our workplace great.

Smiling at someone, saying hello, taking that 30 seconds to drop in and ask how the morning is going: these things matter. So, if you know you’ve been lacking, try to up your game by 20% for the next month and see what happens. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Originally published on LinkedIn.com

Follow us here and subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.

Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.