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Sunday, 11 December 2011

What Don’t You Know About Your People? Ask Them the Story of Their Life!

During the summer we (my wife Hilary and I with Bailey, our Cavalier King Charles spaniel) took a day out in the Cheshire countryside finishing up in Chester.  While Hilary went into a well known store to buy something to eat that evening, I stood outside with Bailey and did some people watching.

We were accosted (in the nicest possible way) by a charming African American lady who insisted on showing us pictures of her Cavalier back home in the US and then took several photographs of Bailey.

I wished her well for her trip to England and she said:

“Oh, I come here often.  This time I’m here to speak at a conference”.

Interested, I asked her what the conference was about and she said:

“It’s an Anglican conference – I’m a Bishop” and went smilingly on her way.

I hadn’t even considered her occupation during our chat.  Looking back I suppose that I could have imagined her being a senior administrator in a business or a head teacher, but it wasn’t relevant in the context of our meeting.

The fact is that unless we ask our people or at least give them the opportunity, we frequently don’t know anything about them other than their interaction in the business and their performance.

Too often our people are allowed to come in to work, take off their coats, take off their brains, hang them both up and then do their allotted time until they go home again having put on  their coats and their brains.  What a waste of talent.

I have fond in my one- to-ones, particularly at the first meeting, that it can be disarming to say to someone: “So, tell me story of your life” and it can be remarkable. if the leader then keeps quiet and listens, how easily people can talk about themselves.

It is always a matter of giving people the respect that they deserve and of showing genuine interest in them and their lives.  Of course, confidentiality is vital and it needs to be stressed.

Even more importantly, we can learn so much more about our people, their interests, their hobbies, their families. There is the constant surprise when we find out that someone does something remarkable in their spare time.

And why shouldn’t those hidden talents be brought to bear in the business to the advantage of the company and, more importantly, to the advantage of the member of the team?

Most of them aren’t Bishops, of course, but they are all individuals with feeling, interests and aspirations, and they deserve to be respected as such.

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Email ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk
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