The nurturer Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2008

Dr. Ellen Rome has learned a lot of business lessons from the kids she has treated as associate chief of staff and section head for adolescent medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. For example, when a child excitedly tells something to an adult, who responds with an equally bubbly voice, the kid opens up more, but if the adult responds with a stern voice, the child shuts down.

“It nips them in the bud,” Rome says. “It deflates the enthusiasm. If you mirror their excitement and then build on it and then direct it to the next great thing, that’s great.”

To build enthusiasm with employees, first have a good cause.

“Enthusiasm well placed can be contagious, but enthusiasm not matched with a good cause isn’t that useful, so you don’t want to have everyone enthusiastic about dropping off a cliff unless the experience is bungee jumping,” Rome says.

With a good cause, people will get on board with you.

“When the cause is puppies are cute and crime is bad, it makes it easy for people to get on board with that,” she says. “It’s a lot harder when the driver is making more money or something that’s less altruistic.”

Sometimes, you have to show people why the cause is great.

“If the job was making widgets in the widget factory, you could figure out ... how widgets make the world go round and envision a life with poorly made widgets and how much better it could be with the best made widgets possible,” Rome says. “Never underestimate the power of storytelling, bringing it home to a shared vision and using the story to help generate the excitement to promote positive change.”

Just as enthusiasm is infectious, so is negativity, so don’t ignore it.

“If you have an Eeyore on your team, you have to figure out how much influence is Eeyore having?” Rome says. “Does the whole team have a thundercloud over their heads, and if that’s the case, how do you minimize Eeyore’s impact and get the rest of your team bouncing around like Tigger into higher productivity?”

To do that, first talk to your employees about their professional challenges.

“If you have people where there are obstacles in the workplace, figure out which are the ones you can change easily, which are the ones that will take more effort to change,” Rome says. “Make sure they’re involved in the process and not just cogs in the wheel — that they’re a valued contributor.”

You also need to see if their personal problems are influencing them.

“Sometimes, if you have somebody who’s a nonproductive member of the team, and you figure out they’re in the middle of dealing with a family member’s health crisis or a kid who’s failing in school or some other thing completely not related to their workplace, just being a little creative with them and empathetic with them can go a long way,” she says.

When there are problems, talk to the person about how they think the issues can be resolved.

“If all of the factors are always external and nothing they can take ownership of personally, and you can’t get them to own any of the pieces of change, that can be fairly frustrating, and that’s where I’ll work to put more of my energies elsewhere and minimize harm or contagion of that person’s influence,” Rome says.

By encouraging your employees and helping them through their professional and personal problems, you’ll help them grow.

“You want to help your super achievers stay rewarded for high productivity and positive attitude and all the things that lead to success,” Rome says. “You want your middle achievers to figure out how to have the right resources at their disposal and the right internal drivers to turn them into super producers, and if you have somebody who’s not hitting it on your team, you have to ask tough questions and what do you need to get them to not just be a middle achiever, but get them to best of their potential.”

When you take an interest in employees’ problems, it helps send the thunderclouds away and maximize their potential.

“Just like with positive youth development, never underestimate the power of a caring adult,” Rome says. “If your team knows that you’re not just saying the words but that you really care and are willing to help problem-solve creatively when they’re hitting roadblocks, that goes a lot toward getting the best out of people and having them more fun to be around.”

HOW TO REACH: The Cleveland Clinic, www.clevelandclinic.org