By Roger Young
So, your coffee mug and corner office indicate that you’re in a leadership position, but does that mean others will follow you?
Not in today’s world!
The old adage ”it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is being taken to new heights as leaders realize the power of building true connections with others. Afterall, getting things done in today’s virtual, uncertain, and chaotic world is not what it used to be!
Assuming that we do get back to some semblance of normal (and we will!), it is pretty safe to say that many people will grimace at the thought getting back into the full swing of their pre-pandemic—getting fully dressed (head to toe), dealing with the thrills of the commute (traffic, tolls, parking), all so they can be less productive than they’ve been over the last couple of years.
Although it is tempting to rest on the laurels of an impressive title, the reality is that being the Senior Director of this or the Vice President of that doesn’t guarantee that people will put forth their best effort to help you succeed.
I’ve worked with some amazing leaders and I’ve also worked with some real leadership losers! There was the Head of HR who was so caught up in the legacy she was trying to create that she failed to realize that nobody else shared her vision. She had never taken the time to engage with her team so she could never garner anyone’s true commitment.
Yes, it’s important to have a strong vision, along with a strategy and the rigor and discipline to hold others accountable to act. These are all contributors to leadership success. But there is one thing that is absolutely critical if you want to garner real commitment- the kind of commitment that results in high performance and a culture where people will do whatever they can to help you get results. You have to make real connections.
Make Real Connections
Great leaders get to know their people. This goes beyond knowing what their hobbies are or which sports their kids play. That all makes for great small talk before a staff meeting but it’s not enough to make a real connection. Making real connections means taking the time to engage with others to surface their challenges and aspirations. It takes understanding what really matters and motivates them.
You’d be amazed at how many people are mortified by the prospect of being recognized for a job well done if that recognition is done in public. There are others who would relish the opportunity to bask in that public praise. As a leader, you need to know which ones are on your team. You learn this through taking the time to ask open-ended questions that reveal the other person’s thinking, beliefs, principles, aspirations, inspirations, and ideas.
I’m not diminishing the value of small talk. Trust me, nobody wants to have deep conversations with you on a daily basis! We’ve all heard of the power of MBWA (managing by walking around). Asking questions like “how was your weekend?” or “where did you go for vacation?” are important. They demonstrate an interest in people beyond the office. But these questions rarely help you gain real perspective.
Instead, use these questions:
- What do you like most about working here?
- If you could change one thing that would make us better, what would it be?
- What do you aspire to be? To become? To do more of? Less of?
- What is your dream job?
- Who impacted you most in your previous job and why?
It’s not enough to just ask the questions. The best leaders really listen and act on what they hear. They show humility and genuine concern. If you are just asking the questions to go through the motions don’t bother. Unless you’re an award-winning actor people will see through it. And even then, don’t bother because you won’t follow through.
How you typically connect with others has a lot to do with your personality and the habits that come most naturally to you as a result. Some people are just more outgoing by nature. These extroverts are pre-wired to be social. If you find yourself more on the introverted end of the spectrum, it just means you may need to develop some new habits that will help you engage more easily with others. A few strategies that will work for everyone include:
- Be Genuine. If you’re going outside of your comfort zone, be honest about it. Explain that you’d like to get to know the person better so you can better support their goals. If you’ve not done the best job of that before, apologize and explain that it’s something you’re working to improve. Being humble and sharing your own personal development needs goes a long way toward establishing trust.
- Dig Below the Surface. You may find that even if you ask a thought-provoking question, you will get a superficial response. Be ready to dig. Ask follow-up questions that open the conversation. Seek to truly understand where the other person’s point of view, and why.
- Listen. If you’re going to ask a question- even a casual question- really listen and give your full attention to the answer. Take some notes during the meeting or give yourself time afterward to jot down a few key takeaways, even if it’s just something like an upcoming birthday or the fact that someone is a tennis enthusiast.
If you’re in a leadership position, look yourself in the mirror and ask if you really truly have a connection with your team members. If the answer is no, ask yourself the even tougher question, do you want to? If that answer again is no, I imagine you probably wouldn’t still be reading this article! Odds are the answer is yes and it’s never too late to build more meaningful connections.
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