group of businesspeople having a meetingI was watching a sports newscast recently. An NFL team’s first year coach had benched their long-time quarterback and a young kid was handed the starting role.

When professional sports teams around the globe do not have the success that is expected, critics come out of the woodwork. This team was struggling and, for the most part, the members of the expert panel supported this coach’s move. Analyst Herm Edwards – a former NFL player and head coach – made a statement that rang very true for me.

Edwards said that effective coaches “listen with their eyes.” He explained that players in the locker room know who is putting in the time and the work to help the team, and they know who isn’t putting in that effort. Unless coaches are closely observing what’s happening day to day and paying attention to who is investing time and energy in contributing to the team’s success, they’ll make bad decisions. They may even – unintentionally – tolerate bad behavior from players because they’re not watching carefully enough.

When coaches “listen with their eyes,” they see proof of how players are behaving, of how players are interacting, of which players are working together to improve their team’s performance and teamwork.

My best bosses did the same thing. They used a variety of activities to stay connected to what was really happening in our team. They observed our meetings and our interactions. They watched our work with customers. They held informal meetings often, usually “spur of the moment” discussions in hallways or at a picnic bench outside our offices. They worked side-by-side with us to see what was going well and what was not going well.

They asked our opinions about how to improve the workflow, how to increase customer service, and how to work more effectively as a team. Even better, they listened to our ideas.

Not surprisingly, their decisions were almost always good ones! They based their decisions on the reality that they observed day in and day out. They set the context for decisions by explaining what they observed, what they learned, and how our suggestions influenced their thinking. They secured our support for the decisions swiftly because we could see that they understood what was really happening.

Pay attention to what you pay attention to. Don’t rely on others’ opinions (no matter how confidently their ideas are presented). Listen with your eyes. Push yourself away from your keyboard and desk, and get close to your team’s real work. Engage with team members to learn their perceptions of the workplace and the work flow.

When you “listen with your eyes,” you’ll have a much better understanding of how things are truly operating within your team. Then, you can refine systems, roles, and skills to help your team serve others better with less frustration and less stress.

How healthy is your team or company’s culture? Don’t guess – get the data with my online Culture Effectiveness Assessment.

Photo © MichaelJung – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

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The music heard on these podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.

S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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