#345 Leadership insight: Being present so others can connect
7 September 2021
Leadership learning from R U OK? day
R U OK? Day is 9 September. It’s a day designed to focus on the importance of checking in with those around us, both personally and professionally.
While asking this important question is simple in many ways, it requires the time and emotional presence to be observant of others and to make time to check-in. This isn’t always easy, as our workloads grow and our to do lists expand, amplified further by this extended period of stress and uncertainty, as we work and manage remotely where we can in response to COVID-19.
So, what can leaders do?
I have written previously about the caring and containing work of leadership: noticing others, communicating, creating psychological safety etc. In the context of R U OK? Day, this article focuses on what leaders and managers can do to support people coming to them when needed, so that checking in is a two-way process embedded an the organisation’s leadership culture.
What does being available and caring look like at work?
Being available and approachable requires numerous characteristics and capabilities, including:
- Communicating regularly with staff – for example, using a regular meeting to share that you are thinking about them and their wellbeing, or sending a weekly ‘check-in’ email to connect and convey this message.
- Being available for conversations and meetings – if you say, ‘please feel free to reach out to me’, help make this feel real and possible by sharing the best phone or email contact and perhaps sharing a time in the week that is most workable for you (a period when you do admin or work from home for example).
- Listening – keep an eye and ear out for your colleagues, observe signs that they may want to talk and be ready to actively listen. Park your preconceptions and ideas at the door and listen attentively to what they say in the moment.
- Being trustworthy – by respecting privacy and being sensitive to difficult circumstances and emotions, respecting confidentiality by not sharing information and not talking about other colleagues.
- Holding your role – being professional by being caring within the bounds of your role – you are not their friend or therapist; you are a senior colleague who cares about them and someone they can talk to about how to address things that are affecting their work and wellbeing and help find appropriate resources.
This is all easier said than done and easier when co-workers are present onsite together. In these times, leaders can be seen and found in the corridors, on the wards and at their desk, and can organise their schedule to have a time when they are accessible and visible, or a day when they stop for lunch or do a coffee run.
What can this look like when leaders and teams are often working offsite and remotely?
When we are working remotely this leadership work of containing and caring can seem harder. However, there are ways to create a sense of presence and availability remotely. For example, perhaps during a regular meeting or via a weekly email you could:
- Say that you are thinking about them and understand how tough things are currently.
- Share a bit about your work schedule and how it may be different – when you are onsite, at home, have more clinical vs administrative hours.
- Share with them that you want them to be in touch – ask about any issues or current challenges and offer help where possible.
- Share your preferences for communication and checking in – do you prefer phone calls or email? Are there times you will not be able to answer or reply?
- Share the details of the Employee Assistance Program and other support available at your workplace.
Leaders and managers I speak to often share that they worry that if they invite people to contact them they will be overwhelmed by requests and demands. However, it is my experience that this doesn’t happen. What does happen is that people feel valued and they take time to prioritise and be thoughtful in what they ask for and what they want to share. Leaders also tell me that when people do get in touch, the information and perspectives they share are incredibly valuable and helpful as they have become more removed and distant from certain areas/types of work and many frontline workers.
Time management is a huge issue. So, opening up the idea of engaging more with people can seem overwhelming but it’s worth it. When people around you know you care and are looking out for them, they feel contained and this in itself is helpful and constructive.
So, if you can, try to find one or two 15-minute blocks in your week or fortnight, where you can say ,“I am available, I can take your call”. In doing this you will build trust and psychological safety and you, your colleagues and patient care will benefit.
Dr Anna Clark PhD
Leadership consultant & coach
In an earlier post, I have written about When it’s time to ask R U OK? and how to prepare and engage in this conversation with a colleague, drawing on the fantastic resources from www.ruok.org.au.
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