10 Things Leaders Need to Know About Their Employees

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A disconnect exists between employees and management. I see it in every organization and in every department or unit. Although some departments are more collaborative (think shared governance), others have constructed a divide so wide between employees and leaders that it makes the Grand Canyon look like a sidewalk crack (or pot hole in Pittsburgh)!

Recently, I posted this question on Facebook:  What is one thing you wish nurse leaders knew about their staff? And got some really great responses. It made me think about the role of the leader and how important it is to truly see the world through the eyes of your employees. You’d be surprised what they really think, do, need, and believe.

If you want to build a strong, more collaborative, cohesive team where everyone works together for a common cause (think patient care), then as leaders you need to see the world through the eyes of your employees. Here are 10 things your employees wish you knew about them:

Everyone has something of value to contribute – recognize and honor everyone

When you only recognize nurses, members of the support staff feel devalued. When you pit diploma prepared nurses against BSN prepared, or day shift against night shift, or show favoritism towards certain employees, it further widens the disconnect. It takes everyone in every role to effectively care for these patients the way we would want our loved ones and ourselves cared for. Include EVERYONE as valuable members of the team.

They act differently when you’re not around

A few years ago, while working as a staff nurse, we rolled out bedside report. During the weekday when the boss was around, everyone did bedside report, but on the weekends (when I worked), almost nobody did. Your employees will behave differently when you’re not there unless you treat them and invest in them as your colleagues.

They want your feedback

Stop waiting until their performance reviews once a year to give feedback to your employees. They want to hear from you now about how they are doing. I spend a lot of time helping leaders with the skills they need to deliver effective feedback – the good, the bad, and sometimes, the ugly. The key here is to get comfortable being uncomfortable giving negative feedback when you need to, and to find reasons every day to give positive feedback.

The way YOU show up every day has a big impact on the way they perform

Did you know that your employees watch you when you walk into work, when you enter into the nurses’ station, when you come back from a meeting, when you walk out of your office. They are always watching you. Why? Because leaders set the tone for the environment. When you’re in a good mood, they will be in a good mood. When you’re in a bad mood…they will in turn, be in a bad mood. Leaders enable their employees to act professionally and with kindness and respect when THEY model the way.

They want to believe that you have their backs

A new nurse shared that she was running around like a chicken with her head cut off one day. Her manager walked past her and asked how she was. The nurse replied, “I’m drowning.” The manager replied, “Well you had better learn to swim.” And kept walking past. In exchange for being the leader, it’s your responsibility to protect them, to run towards danger. If your employees believe that you have their back, they will love you. If they think you would stand by as they drown, they will leave you.

They want you to reward the positive and coach-not criticize-the negative

People repeat the behavior that gets attention. If your expectations are met, make sure you say thank you or show appreciation. If your expectations are not met, before assuming the person intentionally disappointed you, make sure you communicated what you wanted clearly. Approach them as a coach would – with kindness and an intent to help them grow.

They want you to roll up your sleeves and get dirty with them – not always but when it counts.

Even though you aren’t caring for patients, they want to know that you still can. Not from the perspective of taking an actual assignment, but they want to see that you can help turn patients, transport them, insert an IV or draw blood (if that’s your skill set) WHEN they are crazy busy. The want to believe that nothing is beneath you and that you will do anything and everything for the sake of the patients and your staff.

When you criticize or talk badly about one of us in front of others, it makes us uncomfortable and not trust you.

Can you believe that I’m still hearing that leaders are yelling and openly criticizing their employees in front of others? Many times it’s happening at the nurses’ station or in a staff meeting. When you do this, it makes everyone else super uncomfortable. And…it’s a trust destroyer. Stop it.

They know you’re not perfect – stop acting like you are

One of the most powerful ways to establish trust with your employees is to be vulnerable. Leadership is about not having all of the answers. Leaders make mistakes, they admit it and they try again. If you make a decision that wasn’t a good one, tell your staff. It’s okay. They will forgive you if you are sincere.

They need to know you care about them

We are not in the healthcare business. You are not in the leadership business. We are in the people business. Human beings are emotional, social beings. They want to know their boss cares about them as PEOPLE first – nurse, tech, etc. second. Ask about their families, their hobbies, their joys and their sorrows. Show you care by investing in your employees as humans.

I know it’s not easy being a leader. It will probably be the hardest work you’ve ever done but it can be the most meaningful work. EVERYONE remembers their boss, especially their first boss. Be memorable for them by showing up as a leader who cares enough to see the world through their eyes.

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