six employees gathering for a meeting in their office

How a leader “shows up” is how they are perceived to treat those around them. I have some thoughts on the topic and two client stories illustrating perceptions.

First, the thoughts. As leaders we have the luxury of ensuring subordinates know how we need and want them to show up. In our position, we regularly communicate our expectations. Subordinates do not have that luxury. They try to communicate what they need or hope that their leader cares enough to find out.

For leaders I believe there are two essential questions they should be able to answer:

  1. How do I need my subordinates to show up for me?
  2. How do my subordinates need me to show up for them?

Put yourself in these scenarios and consider, could this leader-subordinate interaction relayed to me by a client possibly describe you?

My client told me that her software team has a daily huddle and the project manager is late about half the time. She has been trying to engage with him on a topic about additional training for a week and cannot get his attention. He rescheduled two meetings she put on his calendar because of “higher priorities”. She also attempted a short hallway conversation and got no verbal response, just a head nod and off he went. When she shared her frustrations with her counterparts, they said they had similar experiences of feeling ignored. They also related that all he worries about are the metrics, confirming we follow his directions, and are on time. Don’t be late to anything he schedules or you will be subject to a public shaming.

How is the leader showing up?

From his perspective, he believes he is doing all he can to keep up with the demands of his position. He sets clear expectations for his team, is managing priorities, pushes them to be on time, and make their numbers.

From the perspective of this subordinate?

He is late to meetings, he expects others to be on time, gives the impression her concerns are low priority, does not listen, and demands that his directions and expectations are adhered to.

Let’s look at another scenario, this one related to me by a leader.

This midlevel manager recently had an event with an employee that irritated him when she was late on a deliverable. Not only was she late but she failed to make him aware of a potential issue with the customer. When he brought her in to hold her accountable, the interaction did not go well. She blamed the problems on him and his communication. He reiterated how he has specific expectations she needs to meet, just like the rest of the team. He said he treated her exactly the way he treated everyone else.

My question; did he show up for this subordinate as she needed him too?

Treating her just like everyone else may be the root of the problem. Her perspective may be that he never considered what she might need individually to maximize her effectiveness. Maybe this person needs him to show up differently to be effective. Maybe the communication was the problem. Were his expectations clear to her? Does this person feel invisible to him in the crowd of the team? Was there something else going on he should have taken time to explore and address?

As leaders we can be myopic, many times, focused on our own perspective and expectations. It becomes about how we need subordinates to execute their responsibilities not what they need. We may address the group, thinking we are reaching each individual, when we may need to reach out to individuals.

What? That’s hard. You are correct, it takes time to connect individually with subordinates and to show up in a way that elevates their performance. Yet, when understood and valued individuals are likely to excel.

Subordinates have expectations for how they need their leaders to show up for them. Being listened to and treated as an individual, ranks high. Are you hearing the messages they are telling or sending you?

Do you know how they need you to show up for them?