Acknowledging The Invisible Presence

By Joyce Eisenbraun, EAP Trainer, The Village Business Institute

An older adult pleasantly smiles while healthcare workers swirl around in a flurry of tasks, asking questions but brushing aside her comments about feeling lonely with sprightly assurances that, “We’re here for you!” Or it’s a workplace, where a couple of “rising stars” get the attention and accolades, but the majority of the “nucleus stars” who do competent, steady work rarely get a comment of appreciation or support. Or it’s a middle child at home who isn’t the “perfect” older child or the “troubled” younger sibling, but the one who helps keep the peace, follows the rules and quietly gets good-enough grades.

Regardless of where you work or your family situation, there are often people who are simply “invisible” on your—or your team members’—radar.

They have a presence, but are rarely acknowledged and are often unconsciously brushed aside by teammates or supervisors as though they are invisible. Yet these individuals are often the unsung heroes of an organization: doing daily tasks with competency, efficiency and quiet determination.

A recent study by the Ken Blanchard Group found that “more than 80% of leaders don’t listen to their employees.” The fast pace of business operations, focus on tasks and production, and ease of technology to “communicate” make it easier to ignore the personal connections. So where does that leave the employee? The same Blanchard study found 70% of employees want to have discussions with their leaders about the work they do and their professional goals.

As you look around your organization, work group or family, who is the person with whom you are most disconnected? What do you know about that individual, either professionally or personally? When was the last time you asked their opinion, then truly listened to what they were saying? Do you have a grasp of their goals and dreams?

Where to start?

As you consider your team, take a look at what I call the “nucleus stars”—the ones who form the bulk of your team, and who perform at an acceptable level on a regular basis. No, they’re not the exciting “rising stars” or problematic “falling stars,” but the steady ones who help you achieve your goals, faithfully working and keeping the operation on track.

These individuals are often the unsung heroes of an organization: doing daily tasks with competency, efficiency and quiet determination.

When was the last time you talked face to face (not email, text or other technological tool) about where they see themselves in the team, and how their goals align with the team? Regular contacts beyond the annual performance reviews are recommended. According to leadership experts, regular chats about department and organizational focus will ensure that this team member will feel more included and part of a success strategy.

A second communication tip is to have regular one-on-one conversations with the individual, on a more personal level about their daily work life. It will provide insights that a leader needs for successful coaching. As the team member is encouraged to address how they are doing, they may also feel empowered to share what they need and what might be holding them back. The leader’s role is to listen, ask questions, and provide appropriate direction and support (a role that only 30% of leaders actually do, according to the Blanchard study).

What happens when leaders begin to see the invisible presence on their teams? Studies, including that of the Blanchard Group, indicate that when these formerly “invisible” team members are successfully engaged, they tend to “stay with the organization, endorse it as a good place to work, perform at a high level, apply discretionary effort, and be good organizational citizens along the way.”

Isn’t that the team member you want on your next project?