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A Great Manager’s Most Important Habit

Like any person, I have good and bad habits. For example, I’m obsessed with dental hygiene and meticulously brush my teeth, floss, and use mouthwash. I have a compulsive need for my teeth to be clean. On the other hand, any time I’m in a convenience store I have to fight the urge to buy a king size pack of Reese’s peanut butter cups. Come to think of it, that’s not exactly great for dental hygiene…

But as leaders, we also have good and bad habits, and recent leadership conversations tend to lean toward this idea. Books like Atomic Habits and The Power of Habit put a big emphasis on building good habits as a leadership superpower. When deadlines loom and targets need to be met, we often put energy into habits like task delegation and strategic planning. And this kind of stuff is undeniably important. But when work gets busy and we feel the to-do list piling up, no matter how we’re wired we can often prioritize results over relationships. A recent Gallup survey of 15,000 employees found that only 16% said their last conversation with their manager was “extremely meaningful.” And this is bad news for what Gallup says is a manager’s most important habit. 

A manager’s most important habit is meaningful conversation.

The same Gallup survey found that 80% of employees who say that receive “meaningful feedback” are considered fully engaged in their work, no matter how many days they work in the office or remotely. It sounds simple (because it is), but when we have meaningful conversations with our people, they feel valued in their work. This doesn’t mean that we ignore the results. It just means that we do results and relationships together! 

At Pattern, part of our DNA is that effective leadership is both results and relationships. You will be wired toward one or the other. That’s great! It means that one of these comes naturally to you. It also means that you’ll have to work a little harder on the other. You’ve got a dominant hand and a non-dominant hand. But for us to be effective leaders, we need to be at least a little bit ambidextrous. 

Whether you’re more wired to results or relationships, meaningful conversation has to be your most important habit.

So how do we foster a habit of meaningful conversations? Gallup lists characteristics: 

  1. Recognition or appreciation for recent work
  2. Collaboration and relationships
  3. Current goals and priorities at work
  4. Regular 15-30 minute conversations
  5. Employee strengths or the things they do well. 

I would actually add one more that I think is even more important than these five: appeal to the human. Ask them about the things that they love, even if they don’t pertain to work. Taking an interest in people’s personal fascinations builds trust and meaning in relationships. One of the best manager’s I’ve ever had routinely asked me what I thought about the previous night’s Atlanta Braves game. I didn’t work for the Braves. The Braves had nothing to do with my work. But I do love the Braves, and he knew that. How much more does it mean when we ask about people like spouses and kids? 

Meaningful conversation is the most important habit that we can have, and meaning and purpose are at the heart of what we do at Pattern. If you want help with the results or relationships side of your leadership, or if you just want to strengthen that habit, schedule a call today with Brad here, or email brad@patterntalent.co

January 17, 2024


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