Some of you may know Jacques Languirand, Officer of the Order of Canada, a writer, actor and at 83 years old, 42 season veteran radio host of CBC`s Par 4 chemins. I was listening to him last weekend talking about his troubled teenage years, until he met someone who told him something significant: “I need you”. That person also added something very important: “I didn’t say I needed someone, I said I need you!” This was a request for him to become involved in his community, in one of Quebec’s first youth centers in the 1940s. It triggered in him a passion for the welfare of others that he still has today.
I need you!
A powerful message for the recipient. No doubt a self-esteem booster. But it also calls on us to give our very best: we are seen as part of the solution. It calls on our courage and our resilience: if the other person needs our help, it will likely be a difficult task. This request asks us to work together, it is not a request to succeed alone. We are asked to contribute to someone else’s or to a team’s success. This message gives a meaning to our efforts, a sense of purpose and a feeling of contributing to something bigger than us. Isn’t that the strongest motivator of all?
I need you!
If these words are so powerful, why don’t we use them more often? Maybe because, for starters, they require a good dose of humility. We must accept to communicate that the success rests not only on our abilities, but also on that of others. When we say this, we must also assume the implicit collaborative appeal of this request: it’s no longer about us only. From now on, there will be expectations of communication, consultation and collaboration with someone else. These words also need to come from a true and genuine appreciation of what the other person can bring. They can easily backlash if they are seen as superficial or lacking true conviction. But, above all, saying those words requires courage. The courage to accept that the answer to our request may be a polite or direct “No!” The courage, interestingly enough, to accept the consequences of an enthusiastic “Yes!” If we get people into something difficult and challenging, we need to live with the leadership responsibilities that come with this, including the risks and the pain that we ask others to face with us or for us. It takes courage. The courage to lead.
I need you!
Could employee engagement be as simple as saying I need you? That’s actually only the starting point. If we have any luck, our interlocutor is going to say “Yes!”, but for how long? Keeping the commitment high is sometimes more challenging than getting it in the first place.
We have a lot to learn from volunteer organizations. Their success is directly related to their ability to spark off their volunteers’ commitments. I was once told “I need you” by a volunteer organization who asked me to lead, as a volunteer, the fundraising and the construction of the largest daycare center in Quebec at the time. God knows there was lots of work, traps and risks in this project! So why persevere? The opportunity to contribute to a success is a strong motivator in itself. But above all, the appreciation for my contribution is, I believe, what kept me motivated for over three years. Volunteer organizations are tremendously good at saying Thank You in a meaningful way.
So I need you does not exist in a vacuum. Its companion, Thank you, is equally important and actually creates the possibility of saying I need you once more in the future.
When I think about my professional career, I can count on one hand the times where I was told genuinely Thank you. We’re not particularly good at saying this when the other person receives a paycheck, we quickly conclude that thank you is being said through a paycheck. Yet, these words, Thank You, from your boss or from a colleague is very frequently the only gratification for going the extra mile.
What does this mean to our organizations in transformation times? We spend so much time on change planning and communication strategies, could we just say I need you and Thank you! instead? Organizations are tremendously complex creatures that need equally sophisticated approaches if we are to have any impact. As managers, we must do our homeworks. However, to get the best from everyone, we need to influence each one. Engagement happens one person at the time, we build our relationships one by one. As a leader, we are that point of contact between several nodes within the organization, we are the multipliers of engagement. This is why lies with us the responsibility of saying I need you and Thank you in a meaningful way if we are going to lead in a significant way.
When our complex transformation strategies seem too slow to operate, we revert too often and too quickly to “This is where we are going, if you are not going with us, we will help you find something else”. I’ve seen one large organization lose 20% of its workforce, 800 people within 3 months, after stating something like this. And it’s our best that leave first! They still hurt today. What could have happened if their leaders said “I need you” instead?
We don’t say it enough. This is what I’m trying to say. So let me go first: I need you Erica, Don, Michel, Marcel, Catherine, MF. I need you Toby, Catherine, Jane, Richard, Myriam, Sandrine. And I thank each of you deeply for having contributed your wisdom, your talent and your energy to the success of my projects in the last year.
Your turn! Anyone you should Thank or say I need you? Then, go! go! Go see them now! Now!