If you're in charge of a team at work, one of your top goals this year should be improving your leadership skills.

Too many of us start phoning it in once we get promoted to management and leadership positions because we overestimate our skills and put too much stock in our instinctive reactions to the issues that could come up. The results are often disastrous.

Okay, maybe that's a bit dramatic. However, the results certainly fall short of our employees' expectations and our potential to lead with intention.

When we take on a leadership role, the demands on our time increase. When we get busy, we tend to prioritize more pressing issues (clients, vendors, and our own managers) over those with less tangible results such as relationships with our staff. But fostering those relationships can make our jobs a lot easier when the busy moments come along.

Think for a moment about the managers and leaders you've worked with and for in your career. My guess is they would collectively earn a C+ grade in your book. There are a handful that stand out for their inspiring excellence and a few who stand out for the opposite reason. Most are smack in the middle.

Under lackluster leadership employees are less productive, less engaged, and generally unhappy at the place they spend most of the waking hours of their lives. It's a shame and we can do better.

Still think you're above average? Reflect for a moment on these questions.

Do you skip planning conversations in advance to both praise and correct your employees' approaches and just wing it? Are your staff stagnating or continuing to make the same mistakes? Do you complain to your peers (other managers) about your team's attitude and results rather than working with them to improve morale and achieve more? Do you avoid meeting with your staff members one-on-one? If they schedule time with you, how many of those meetings have you canceled when something "more important" came along?

Routinely canceling meetings is a dead giveaway that you don't care. However, a "yes" to any of these 5 questions signals that your relationship is neglected.

If these questions make you feel a little uncomfortable or defensive, then it's probably time for you to polish your management skills and reach out to your staff more.

Keep in mind that most employees' biggest concern about their job is their relationship with their boss. All employees want assurance that someone knows who they are and the value they add to the team.

More specifically, every employee wants three basic things:

  1. Constructive feedback with doable suggestions on how to improve. They want to receive this information in language that is clear, direct, and fair. These conversations are made possible and less stressful when the employee knows that the leader cares about them.

  2. To know what you want. All employees want to do a good job. When employees aren't producing, it's a sure sign of broken communication lines--don't just assume that they're being lazy or inept.

  3. Support in reaching their goals. Employees don't only want to know what you want, they  also want you to know what they want. It's not all about more money and promotions. They want you to know what drives them and what their goals are, so you can help them carve out a path to get there.

Improving your relationships with your staff requires your intentional effort to offer constructive feedback, clearly articulate what you want, and helping employees reach their goals-- which is a lot easier when you know what those goals are.

As you refresh your professional and personal goals for the coming year, consider adding tangible improvements to your leadership skills. Focus on improving your relationships with your employees as a way to increase their productivity and engagement--and to just make work a better place to be for everyone. A little effort goes a long way when it comes to reaching out to people. Employees appreciate seeing their bosses take extra steps to improve themselves and make everyone's jobs a little easier.

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