Leaders Prioritize – Leaders Respond
Recently, a friend was in some slow moving employment contract negotiations. There was no animosity and both sides were excited that the contract was offered. After the initial flurry of emails that led to the offer, the employer became very slow to respond to emails when the fine-tuning negotiating started.
The employer would send an email. My friend would respond in a few hours and then days would go by before she would hear back from them. It turns out, most of the time, the gentleman representing the employer was travelling or waiting for more information before getting back to her.
Both are perfectly normal reasons for not having a decision right away but no excuse for not sending a short email, letting her know why he couldn’t provide the decision in a timely manner. In the silence, my friend was growing more and more stressed that the employer was going to back out of the contract. In reality, that was not the case at all. In the end, it all worked out but in the process, considerable time and energy, and a little respect were lost.
Had the employer acknowledged the receipt of the corresponding emails and either responded with an answer or mentioned when he would get back with a proper response, the trust and respect level would have remained high while eliminating unnecessary anxiety.
If he could not write a complete answer to the email in an appropriate time, a simple one-line explanation why and when to expect the response would be the appropriate thing to do.
Get Out of the Way
Are you getting in the way of progress? Too often, teams and projects are stalled by the lack of response from their leaders. As a leader, you have many tasks and decisions to handle, in which others’ progress is delayed without your action. Don’t leave your team sitting idle, wondering what they should do while waiting for a response from you.
Don’t forget the quote ‘The devil finds work for idle hands‘. This means that if people don’t have anything to do with their time, they are more likely to get involved in trouble.
Respond to your team’s requests and questions in a timely fashion as they rely on your leadership to move forward. If you are not ready to make a decision, let them know why and when you plan to make it. This type of response keeps them in the know, alleviating any second-guessing on why you didn’t respond. Don’t leave your team wondering why you haven’t responded. If you don’t tell them, their imagination will take over, creating all kinds of (usually) horrible stories on why you have not responded.
I get it: you get dozens possibly hundreds of emails, voice mails, or social media notifications every day. How could you possibly respond to them all right away? You can’t and I am not expecting you to. You need to prioritize your communication strategy. As a leader, you are responsible for a core team of people and/or clients. These are the people (along with your imitate family) who expect, and rightly so, a timely response from you.
As Soon As Possible is an awful phrase that has made its way into our common language. Don’t use it. It doesn’t tell us anything! It leaves us guessing just as much as if you didn’t respond at all. ASAP for whom? ASAP for me would be right now whereas, for you, it may be in three days’ time.
A much more effective response would be to give a date and even better, a time to expect a response from you. If you don’t know a specific time when you will be able to respond, set a fence. A fence is the latest time they can expect to hear from you. Never go through the fence! If you have an answer or the information they are looking for by the time you get to the fence, update them and let them know you need to move the fence. By going through the fence and staying silent, you risk losing valuable trust and respect.
Respect and trust are pillars of quality leadership that take’s time to build and moments to destroy. Don’t compromise them by not responding to your team members when they are looking for you to lead.
Action: The next time you are about to say ASAP, avoid the urge and instead, give a date and time.
Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author and Ironman competitor.
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