Like in relationships, there’s a thin line between too much attention and not enough. Finding that sweet spot not only leads to better performance, but also better leaders.
by Kate Everson
July 3, 2014
We’re all familiar with common dating tropes. There’s the clingy girlfriend and the unresponsive boyfriend, and neither one is good for a relationship. Someone’s going to feel neglected. Someone’s going to feel annoyed. No one’s going to be happy, and it’s going to be an ugly breakup that probably results in one absconding with the other’s vinyl copy of “Abbey Road.” In the end, couples have to make sure they walk the fine line between giving each other space and giving each other attention — and a lot of times, that’s harder than it sounds.
We’re also familiar with how interpersonal relationships have a tendency to crop up at work — and I don’t mean when an overly attached boyfriend appears at the reception desk uninvited because he “misses your face.” Camaraderie between bosses and their direct reports follows a lot of the same principles. Finding that perfect balance of time spent together — which can develop employees’ leadership skills as direct reports observe their bosses in action— and working independently,which gives employees the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned.
A new study conducted by research and management consultant firm Leadership IQ found that perfect balance by polling 32,000 workers. They found the employees most engaged in their jobs spent six hours per week with their boss.
That’s an hour and 20 minutes a day. Leaders looking to fulfill that requirement had better hope they don’t have more than six employees reporting to them, because otherwise they’ll be in the office well after 5 p.m. and never get any other work done.
But they can still teach employees leadership skills, even without those six hours of one-on-one time.
Mark Murphy, CEO and founder of Leadership IQ, said triaging, or splitting up duties and assigning them to direct reports, can limit how much time bosses have to spend with employees and help make sure they can spend the recommended six hours with low performers who need the extra attention.
High performers can act as conduits to middle performers, which also cuts down on how many people leaders have to meet with, makes high performers feel valued and creates stronger leaders. Murphy said the research also revealed that an unofficial “manager for a day” program also can give high performers the chance to figuratively sit in their boss’ chair and learn the leadership ropes.
“They could start to communicate positive messages and build engagement with those folks,” he said. “You want to be able to extend yourself as far as you can, and high performers are going to help you extend better, so it’s often a question of reprioritizing where your time goes.”
In an ideal world, making sure the boss-employee relationship hits that sweet spot with regard to communication is the boss’ responsibility, Murphy said. But not every leader thinks about this, thus employees have to figure out whether their boss is attuned to their needs, goals and any resources or information they might need.
That’s not to say that employees should approach their leaders with a time sheet if they feel there’s a problem. “There are all sorts of ways to have more conversations that don’t feel creepy stalkerish where you pop in their offices and say, ‘Stopwatch is going, we need six hours, go!’” Murphy said. Simply booking more time with a boss or requesting a meeting can do the trick.