Let me tell you about Bob.
Bob (not his real name) was nothing special to look at but he had a unique behaviour that made his staff fiercely loyal to him. In fact in nearly 20 years management experience I've only met two managers using this behaviour and building a team with it.
Let me share the secret with you.
I met Bob about 10 years ago and there was something about our first conversation that was unusual but I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time. The day I learned his secret was when I wanted to ask him something.
Now if you want something from your boss or another manager, it’s pretty simple. You just wander up to where they are and when you catch their eye, you can talk. It usually doesn’t matter if they’re doing something or with someone else because most managers are busy in a whirl anyway plus you’re pretty used to only getting a quick response.
Even if you have to make an appointment, the drill is well understood. They are busy and you keep it short.
So off I go and Bob is talking to someone. I edged up and hung around. I coughed, hopped from foot to foot and looked at my watch. All tactics that had served me well in the past. And do you know what? No matter what I did, I could not get Bob’s attention.
And then it hit me.
This was Bob’s secret.
No matter what he was doing or who he was with, he always gave 100% of his attention to the person with him. Not just looking at them. He was actually there, all of him. If you were with him, you had 100% of his attention for that time. It was very powerful.
His team were loyal and protective. They worked late and pulled together. And their results spoke for themselves. Is your team like this?
Most of us are short-changing our colleagues, our teams or our families. We are busy doing something and they interrupt so we keep an eye on the screen while we talk to them, we listen out for what else is happening, we let feelings of impatience bubble up - particularly if we are late. And so we rob people of our attention. And we rob ourselves of the results we could get.
I remember one senior manager in an open plan office who would glance over your shoulder during a conversation and if he saw someone more interesting or if his boss wandered by, he would just start a new conversation with them. it was completely unconscious and I don’t think he saw anything wrong with it.
Very few people know how to give good attention. Try it and you’ll see.
Next time you have a conversation with a work colleague or team member, give them 100% of your attention. Turn to face them. Concentrate on what they are saying and listen without rehearsing your next sentence inside. Don’t let anything distract you. Be there.
You might need to shut the lid of your laptop or turn the screen off. You might also need to shift your chair. Give them your full attention.
Now sometimes people express a fear at this point. "If I gave my full attention to everyone who wanted it then I’d never get any work done."
Perhaps you haven’t realised what your work really is? If you gave your full attention to everyone who wanted it then you would have less work in the first place.
A manager is paid to think (few others do) and to work effectively through her team.
One of the reasons people are always interrupting you is that they crave attention and appreciation. Keep giving them what they want and they will start to bother you less often. At first it will seem hard but slowly, and paradoxically, as they realise that they can have your full attention, they will demand less of it.
Coaching clients who put just this small change into practice have found delegation gets easier, results improve and they have more time.
It’s also one of the keys to motivation. More on that next time.
Have fun paying attention!