The Voice for Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row, P.E.

The wedding was filled with music. We sat in the wooden pews listening attentively as music consumed the church.  As the choir sang, a petit 5-year-old girl with dark hair and a white frilly dress scoocheddancinggirl past her mother into the center aisle… to dance.  And dance she did! She twirled, pirouetted with arms overhead, and swished her skirt to and fro.  She was oblivious to the rest of us as she danced.  Equally impressive, her mother let her dance— in the middle of the wedding ceremony.

Most of us don’t literally dance in the halls at work. However, when we are immersed in our “zone” it can seem like dancing. This is when we do our best, most creative work. It’s a wonderful and productive way to work until someone squashes the moment, and turns off the internal music.  Have you as a manager or leader ever squashed an employee’s internal music?  Have you taken their creative energy and put it on the sidelines?  You may have and not been aware of it. Put another way, how can you enable your employees to dance in the aisles, so to speak, and do their best work?

Know how employees work best. We all have ways of working that come naturally to us.  Some people draw energy from group projects, discussing and debating. Other people need quiet, reflective time for their ideas to gel.  Working in alignment with natural behaviors feels like dancing in the aisle. It’s the place for optimal performance.

Know the optimal performance environment for each of your employees. It’s not one-size-fits-all. If you don’t know their desired work methods, ask them. Once you know, don’t force fit them into an uncomfortable approach.  For those who work best with individual autonomy, don’t insist on constant group work. It will drain their energy and sap their creativity. Yes, you still need to work and play well with others, but for creative thinking, allow them to choose another approach.  For those who thrive on the energy of others, put them into teaming arrangements so that they can feed off of others and generate ideas.

Give employees control to work in their most productive environment. Research shows that a sense of control over your environment triggers the reward response in the brain. On the other hand, a reduction in control such as micromanaging, triggers the brain’s threat response. No one works at their best if their brain feels threatened. To launch a reward response, provide them with a sense of control over approaches to their work, the timing of their workday, and work processes. Instead of directing “how” to execute their work (which reduces their sense of control) use phrases like,

  • “Here are a couple of approaches that could work, choose the one that’s best for you.”
  • “We need to achieve this outcome. Use whatever approach you think is best to reach that goal.”
  • “As long as you are available between 10am and 3pm, you can adjust your work schedule to fit your needs.”

As a manager, you are like that mother who allowed her daughter to dance like no one was watching. Creativity and energy flowed from every step and swish of her skirt.  It’s the same for your staff. Know their optimal work environment and then release control.  Give them the freedom to work at their best. Then, sit back and watch them dance in the aisle.

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