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Rekindling Engagement and Ownership with “I’m For You”

Six Suggestions to Shift Your Everyday Management Dynamic

Do you ever feel like it takes a big lift to move the work forward when you are a manager?

Maybe their work product needs sizable improvement before it will be ready for show time. Or you brace yourself for a conversation with your team member, knowing they may not want to hear your perspective or suit up for another round of edits.

Somewhere, the generative spark in these situations is a little dimmer. Engagement and ownership have waned. And it’s so tempting to just push through.

It’s easy to just normalize this as a part of the everyday grind and the forces of burnout all around us. But, provocatively, we want to flag the toll of this phenomenon on both you and your direct report. And, even more provocatively, we want to highlight a key source of the challenge…

You. Or more specifically, some of the mindsets and postures you bring to the collaboration.

One of the biggest determinants of the engagement and ownership of your team members is whether your actions tell them “I’m for You” or … something else.

Let’s break this down.

The Common Messages Team Members Hear

The quiet “I’m for this Work Product”

Often at the beginning of our work, that engagement spark is burning bright. We all roll up our sleeves together, and we know that setting the person up to win in their new role will be a win for everyone.

Once the work gets underway, we can subtly shift our attention to the work product and the outputs of the work, rather than the contributor.

It’s no surprise, because we have all sorts of forces around us pushing us this way. In the work itself, we may be grappling with our own understanding of how to execute on the work. It takes a lot of mental lift, and we get absorbed. We might feel on the hook to show to others that we are capable of managing toward excellence and we feel the pressure of our responsibility toward quality work.

In the dots and dashes of our edits and feedback, the message of “I’m for this Work Product” gets telegraphed to our team member. If we are so focused on getting the work out the door, that work becomes the focal point of our interactions. And, indirectly it says that the person - their contribution and their experience in the process - don’t really matter. Oof.

A more tension-filled “I’m for truth” or “I’m for being seen”

Another dynamic can come after that initial bright beginning. At some point, we hold a truth that we suspect won’t be acknowledged easily by the other person. Maybe we have some wisdom or experience about a situation, and we want that to be heard and honored.

Perhaps the other person feels urgency to move forward, but our intuition says there is more work that needs to be done. Or maybe the collaboration has been rocky, and we want the other person to understand how problematic that experience has been.

As we hold these things to share, the tension within us may start to build. We anticipate a push back, and we build a script for how a conversation is going to go. We would never really say “I’m for me” but our posture does shift to a way of protecting and tending to the truth we’re holding. “I’m for being seen” or “I’m for truth” can feel like a natural stance to take when there is something within us asking to be honored.

The challenge comes with this posture as we forget that there might be other truths held by the other person. The more we stand ready to defend our truth, the harder it is to hold curiosity for what the other person has to share.

How “I’m For You” is Different

When our team members can hear “I’m for You,” they see a manager who wants them to be successful - both in the short term on the work, and longer term in their development. “I’m for You” honors the work the other person has poured into the process, and it shows an investment in their growth.

A manager with this mindset sees success as a team member achieving goals in the driver’s seat of their work. They center the other person and ask how they can be an ally for that success. An “I’m for You” posture inclines a manager toward the gifts and talents of their team members. It is grounded in cultural humility and listening, showing that their experience and their perspectives matter.

The difference here for a team member is profound. “I’m for You” doesn’t let them off the hook. It invites them to tap into their greatness. It says that we see them, we know there is wisdom there, and we want them to win in the work they are doing.

“I’m for You” Isn’t a Compromise

Some leaders bristle at this, asserting that an “I’m for You” position will water down their outcomes and diminish success.

Our response to those concerns is this: “I’m for You” is not equivalent to going soft. We see leaders lean into tough conversations more, challenge their team members to reach, and double down on the things that matter most. They don’t lower the bar to be met, but they do prioritize getting to success with the other person’s ownership and agency intact. We think this is actually harder to accomplish, but ultimately more sustaining.

A leader who steps into “I’m for you” stance is one that embraces the “both/ands”. They think of belonging and impact. Of short term wins and long term progress. They see that working through people is part of what builds and sustains great work.

Provocatively, if you feel like this mindset lowers the bar of success, we’d invite you to consider whether your belief in what is possible with great management and heartfelt conversation might be low as well. Ultimately, “success” without considering the experience of others is incomplete.

Six suggestions for bringing “I’m for You” to your everyday interactions

Often simply reminding ourselves of “I’m for you” creates a meaningful shift in our everyday work. One leader developed a mantra to say “I want to take each moment I have with a team member and see it as an investment in them.” We love that, and we know that it isn’t always so easy to do in the moment. So here are six ways to help you get started in your “I’m for you” practice.

  • Get crystal clear on roles and the contributions of each team member. When we survey team members, we hear that one of the biggest things a leader can do is to set them up to own and drive their work. Team members want to be contributors – they want to have a clear space to grow and deliver. So help them start by knowing what their responsibilities on a project and on the team are. Don’t just dole out short term assignments – step back and set up robust assignments that people have to stretch into.

  • Listen to your team member and hear what matters to them. This goes for both their long term aspirations and also the micro judgment calls that they are making. We can assume that we know what a team member is working toward. But that can give the feel of “I know what’s best for you” rather than “I’m for what matters to you.” When you activate their sharing, you invite them to stay in the drivers’ seat.

  • Prepare for your meetings with them, and attend consistently. Team members talk about how showing up consistently is a big signal that their work matters. Of course, things happen. But work to hold a steady check-in process, acknowledge to them that you’ve heard their requests, and spend some time gathering your thoughts before you enter a meeting.

  • Give feedback, and check your comfort at the door. “I’m for You” managers give feedback readily – and they do it in timely, digestible, direct ways. (If you need a starting sentence, you can even say “Hey, I’m for you and your success, and I’d like to talk about what I’m seeing here.”) If you’re feeling that common tension build up, remind yourself that this isn’t about being right as much as it is helping someone to have information to be successful. When you can be clear that the feedback is in service of them, it makes the delivery more heartfelt and authentic.

  • Connect to the impact on the team members’ success. Sometimes your team member may not see the value in your suggestions. So when you need to hold them accountable, talk with them about how the status quo would impact their ability to reach their goals. Help them to see the bigger picture so they can put your suggestions into a bigger schema.

  • Be a mirror for their greatness. Each of us can benefit from an external perspective that helps us see our gifts. Take time to show your team members how their unique gifts helped them to be successful. Thank them for their contributions and show them that they matter. A little recognition goes a very long way.

“I’m for You” rekindles that generative spark

We know that doing compelling work is complex business. It’s so easy to get absorbed into the juggles, the intellectual problem solving, and all that goes with it. Our own desires and the needs of the work bring a natural pull toward “I’m for being seen” and “I’m for this project.”

We get it. But the optimism we hold comes about the power of working together, and that can only come when “I’m for You” is alive and well. Ultimately, the joy in the work comes in seeing success through other’s contributions. It comes through long lasting excellence. And it doesn’t have to come with heaviness, resistance, or needing to advocate for being seen.

You can share from the heart and challenge others toward excellence. Together, you can build great things. We so believe this!

Because, after all, We’re for You. Here’s to your ongoing success.

Attribution credit: We’d like to thank our colleague Cosette Strong for bringing language to this management mindset.


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