One of the greatest shortfalls a leader can exhibit is being out of touch. If you're not tuned in to what's going on in your business, in the industry, with competitors, or with your people, you won't last long. The most common of these misfires is the last one--being out of touch with your people.

Too many leaders see this as being nice to be but unnecessary, and it is a more devious trap than the other misses. You either know your business, competitors, and industry, or you don't. But plenty of leaders think they know their organization yet they really don't. Or worse yet, they don't think this knowledge makes the cut for things to be in touch with.

Big mistake. And a big missed opportunity.

The most successful, truly in-touch leaders can spot these three employee types and act accordingly.

1. Rising stars

Spotting talent is job number one for in-touch leaders, but it's easy to get wrong. Too many focus on superficial cues like who puts in the most face time or gives the best soundbites. I spent 25 years at Procter & Gamble (a hotbed for leadership development) and know that the company views rising stars as having a certain set of traits.

The best and brightest future leaders are able to learn quickly and adapt in the face of adversity. In fact, they love to learn and improve, especially if it helps them win in the marketplace.

The rising stars are able to influence others through their personal power (not position power) and in general have a powerful personal presence (including communicating well and with confidence). They have EQ to go with their IQ, including having empathy, being a great listener, and knowing how to tailor their leadership approach to each individual or situation to achieve the best outcome.

Finally, future rock stars are decisive, making consistently solid decisions based on data but also mixed with experience and judgment.

2. Everyday heroes

Every organization has them; the quieter, often lower-level employees who work their tails off (often putting in more hours than the leaders), who know the standards and systems better than anyone else, and who have often been around longer than anyone else. They are super-conscientious and über-efficient, and consistently just get it done, whatever and however much is asked of them, with excellence and without complaint. And they typically do so without much recognition.

In every organization I ever ran, there was always at least one person who was the most accountable, dependable bedrock in the group. I learned through the years that quite often people like this aren't asking for fancy recognition and heaps of rewards. They just want to be noticed, visibly valued, and to be given the respect they deserve.

I always made it a point to quickly identify the everyday heroes in my organization, take the time to ask them questions and learn from their expertise, and go out of my way to let them know just how valued and valuable they were.

You can too.

3. Unaddressed underperformers

Nothing can rankle a rising star, or any solid employee, frankly, like a corrosive employee who continues his or her inept, disruptive ways unchecked and unaddressed by management. It creates a sense of unfairness and casts doubts about leadership, creating the sentiment that either the leaders don't care enough to fix the problem employee or aren't in-tune enough with their organization to see the impact the negative-ion employee is having.

You simply must sniff out the underperformers and courageously address them. Spotting them isn't as difficult as figuring out why they're underperforming. To help, here are the top reasons why employees don't do what they're supposed to:

  • They think they're already doing it.
  • They don't know why they should do it.
  • They don't know what they're supposed to do.
  • They don't know how to do it.
  • They don't know when to do it.
  • They think something else is more important.
  • There's no positive outcome for their doing it.
  • They're rewarded for not doing it.
  • They're "turned off" by the type of work.
  • There are circumstances beyond their control.

Use this list to help pinpoint the why behind the woeful performance, and then intervene accordingly.

Being in touch requires being in tune with the employee types that make your organization go (or grind to a halt). So tune in to tune up your leadership effectiveness.