Don’t be a hero
The idea of staying true to who you are sounds great and is easy to do when everything is on schedule and transpiring as expected. But what happens when the unexpected occurs and you fall behind and find yourself scrambling to meet your obligations?
“For me, when a lot is coming at me at one time and it’s high priority, that’s a pretty typical day for me,” Niemann says. “What I tend to do is take a deep breath and try to step back from the situation.
“I try to evaluate what is the most important thing for me to deal with right now or today or this week — what are the things I’m best suited to address and deal with versus what are the things my partners, fellow executives and other colleagues are best suited to deal with?”
It sounds simple, but it often makes perfect sense. The problem occurs when leaders try to do too much, don’t trust their colleagues and lose confidence in their ability to manage difficult situations.
“For me, it’s just understanding and stepping back from a situation and knowing I can’t deal with everything that might be coming my way,” Niemann says. “I know I have to find the right people to deal with different situations.”
Companies invest a great deal of time and money to find the right people to fill slots in their business. If you don’t let them perform those duties and maximize their talents for the betterment of your organization, then all that effort was a waste.
“When individuals are fulfilled, motivated and finding meaning in their career and inside our firm, we as a firm collectively are so much more productive,” Niemann says. “We can accomplish so much more for our clients and for our people in their careers.”
When you let people put their skills to use and when you show genuine appreciation for the value that your people bring to your firm, you can’t help but produce a strong, healthy work environment.
“We work hard to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work,” Niemann says. “We all have different strengths that help us collectively to work together as high-performing teams that deliver exceptional client service.”
Offer support when needed
Part of functioning as a strong team is also being able to help members of that team who are going through difficult situations. It could be a tough client or a situation involving the employee’s family. In some cases, it can involve a problem with someone else on the team.
“One of our colleagues was going through a really tough time individually,” Niemann says. “There was tension. I would describe it as tension between her and some teammates she works with on a daily basis. To be productive, they have to function as a team. I was trying to help her through that and think through the best solution.”
It can often be useful to think about situations from your own past when you faced a similar problem. The key is to work with the individual and find a way to resolve the problem.
“It doesn’t matter who is causing the tension or even what the tension is,” Niemann says. “But being able to work together to serve our clients is so important. So it’s tackling the issues head on, having direct but constructive conversations that ultimately help that colleague through that situation. But perhaps most important is having genuine empathy for the situation because we’ve all been through it.”
In these uncertain economic times, many companies face more pressure than in the past as they try to do more with fewer resources. That kind of environment raises stress and creates an even greater need for leaders to support people when they need it.
“Even little things like looking out for people and making sure we’re giving them a break,” Niemann says. “‘Let’s go take a coffee break. We’re working really hard with this client; let’s go take a coffee break and maybe we bring the client along.’
“It gives people an opportunity to take a deep breath and realize how much they enjoy each other on our EY team, as well as enjoy interacting with the client. That’s especially true when you can put your work down for a few minutes and go grab a cup of coffee or a meal.”
When it comes to taking that break, you as the leader need to set the tone and show that it’s OK.
“If you’re telling people to take advantage of flexibility, we as leaders need to take advantage of that flexibility, monitor our own habits and work styles and understand that our people are watching us,” Niemann says. “If we don’t put forth the right example and serve as true role models, it might get reduced to just words or just talking the talk and not walking the walk. That’s part of being authentic.”