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Leader's Digest: Find the Time

From his days directing Missouri’s Christian Hospital EMS a decade ago to his current work as a consultant and development specialist, Chris Cebollero has learned enough about leadership to have written multiple successful books about it. This new series excerpts his Ultimate Leadership: 10 Rules for Success. For more see  

Rule #5: Make Time for Staff

In my early years as a leader, people would come to my office looking for guidance, wanting my mentorship, or needing my support. My mistake was not making time for them and sending them away. The only thing this helped me gain was resentment from my workforce. 

Eventually I noticed they stopped coming to me with their issues and challenges. My actions caused me to have the reputation of someone who did not care about his people. There was no teaching on my part or assisting of growth. Needless to say, my leadership effectiveness suffered. My workforce did not care about me or the organization because I did not care about them. Eventually I realized I needed to change my approach by making more time for my employees. 

When I shared what I’d just learned with my mentor, he said, “Why are you inviting people to your organization whom you don’t care about?” I was confused. I asked, “What do you mean by ‘inviting people to your organization’?” My mentor explained. “You’ve hired them. These people came to you, and you looked at them and said, ‘Come here and help my organization be successful.’”

I still didn’t get it. Then my mentor said to me, “You’re just giving them a job, is that it? All you care about is giving them a job?” That was a real wake-up call for me because I realized that for me to be successful, I needed to make time for my employees. My leadership role is to give them whatever they need to be successful. 

My Four Questions 

  • What can I do for you today?
  • If you were the leader of this department, what is the one thing you would change, and why?
  • How can I help you reach your goals?
  • What advice do you have for me to become a better leader for you?

When you make time for employees, it gives employees the opportunity to just chat about whatever is important to them. My role wasn’t to manage the budget, my role wasn’t to meet with lawmakers; my role was to take care of the employees doing the job. I asked people who came into my office one of the above questions. 

We also gave evaluations every 90 days instead of annually. These take a little bit more work for the leadership team, but it ensures the leaders have to get in front of the employees, at least for an hour. To give a review every 90 days, department leaders had to ensure they were meeting with the workforce more regularly and assisting them in reaching their quarterly goals. 

The second thing 90-day reviews did was help employees reach their goals. Because we were meeting together regularly, we knew where they wanted to go, and we wanted to help them reach their goals. Every 90 days we were saying, “Where are you on your goals? How can we help you reach your goals?”

The third thing 90-day reviews led to was that employees weren’t surprised at the end of the year with their evaluation. Instead of going over goals once a year in the typical annual review, we were talking about goals and challenges all year around. Since formal communication was happening every 90 days between the employee and leadership team, we always knew how much progress had been made and exactly how we were going to be able to help that employee reach their goals. 

Get to Know Your Employees

Getting to know your employees personally is also something that is very, very important. You don’t need to go out and have a beer or go out to dinner, but you need to develop a friendly, cordial professional relationship with them. 

You need to understand who they are and their personal motivations. I always ask this question to leadership groups: “How many of the leaders out there have employees who have families?” You see a lot of hands go up. Then I ask: “What are their names?” You see a blank look on their faces. Too many leaders don’t make the time to get to know their employees as people. 

Understanding who your employees are as people outside of work helps you understand how to connect with them and creates the kind of trust a leader needs to be successful.  

Create a Positive Environment

  • Make work better
  • Give opportunities to grow
  • Eliminate stress

As a leader it’s important to realize you can’t motivate people—they have to motivate themselves. But you can create an environment where they can reach their goals.

Our job as leaders is to get the very best out of the members of our teams. When you focus on sharing opportunities, growing and valuing people while truly showing you care about them, you develop a positive working environment. This eliminates stress and increases morale.   

Chris Cebollero, NRP, is a senior partner for Cebollero & Associates in St. Louis, Mo. He is a member of the EMS World editorial advisory board. 


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