I will never forget sitting down to have a serious coaching conversation with a new employee. His name was Ed, and he had come to my team with years of face-to-face selling experience.
I was running a call center team, and thought Ed’s experience in sales would be a benefit. Ed had come to my door that morning, tell me he needed to talk with me. I had a series of meetings that would result in a series of additional meetings, but didn’t feel I had the time to give this conversation.
“Ed, why don’t we try to talk at the end of the day? I have a bunch of meetings today and I want to give you my full attention.”
Within that eight-hour period of neglect, I missed my monthly goal because Ed was miserable and didn’t make one call. Somehow, I think I should have been ten minutes late for my first meeting. When we finally met, Ed basically said this:
“I hate this job. I don’t like talking to people on the phone because it interrupts their day. I can’t see their faces to see how they’re responding to me. I dread coming in and I love leaving. I am putting in my notice.”
I looked at Ed, amazed that he was throwing in the towel so early. “Ed, why don’t I work with you on these calls? I think there might be some small things you can do differently.”
“No, there isn’t. You don’t know what it’s like on these calls because you have yet to listen to one of mine. I’m done.”
In that moment I realized my biggest mistake – I was so busy writing reports and attending meetings I had never really understood what my team was experiencing every day. I wasn’t there.
When describing a great journalist, Lane Degregory says:
“You need to be at the scene – to smell it, taste it, hear the dialogue, see the body language, look the people you will write about in the eye.”
I think the same applies to great leadership. You need to experience what your team experiences, smell it, taste it, hear it, see it, and look them in the eye when you coach them. I don’t know that I could have saved Ed had I been more aware, but I certainly could have saved him some misery.
Next time, I’m living it before I lead it.