Whether you’re a new leader or you’re challenged by a team that’s not responding as well as you expect, the first rule of becoming a connected leader is that you have to make the connection — and keep on making it.
Connection means different things to different people and in different contexts. So what’s important is how connection feels to your staff and your colleagues, the resonance it has for them, and not what it feels like to you or what you read in a book or heard about at a conference. If they don’t feel personally connected to you, how will you ever “move” them?
Follow the Leader
If you’re going to be a leader in fact and not merely in title, then no matter what your functional competence is, or your strength of will or rank in the organizational hierarchy, your connection to your followers is based on the individual relationship you have with each of them as human beings and not just in aggregate.
Although there can be logical reasons that they should start following you — because you know where to take them, or because they’re paid to follow you — they need a reason to continue following you. There’s nothing as powerful as their actually wanting to be where you are, go where you go, and care about what you care about.
Your followers need to know that you know them, and that you notice them and recognize them as individuals who are personally important to you.
If you’re not naturally inclined in this direction, some suggestions follow. It may feel artificial to do some of these things, particularly in the beginning, but it’s crucial that you do them with the full intention of recognizing each individual’s specialness — otherwise, the hollow, artificial, or pro forma quality of your relationship can backfire and people can feel pushed away.
- Greet your followers wherever and whenever you see them, and by name if at all possible. If you lead a large group that you don’t see on a daily basis, get their photos and practice remembering their names and what they look like for the rare occasions when you’re face to face.
- Never think that your followers don’t notice you when you pass them in the lobby — or in the restroom. As the leader, you have no privacy unless and until you are truly where none of your constituents are, and if one of them shows up for some strange reason, you’re immediately public again.
- Practice MBWA, Management By Walking Around. Some people call it “wandering,” but more purposeful perambulations may be necessary if you don’t naturally see people at least once a week. What you don’t want is for your followers to think of you as a stranger — whether in the office, on the stage, or at the head of the conference room — who never seems to have any time for them.
- Keep track of such personal inventory items as your followers’ birthdays and anniversaries, the health of their pets and their parents, and the achievements of their kids. When you’re face to face, mention these specifics and inquire about new developments. If you have to, take notes, just the way you would if these were your top customers, because in a way they are — they are always deciding whether they’re going to buy your leadership.
Keep It Real
You’re a real person and your followers are real people. Acknowledging that and cultivating it will not diminish the need for strategizing or decision-making or any of the other crucial activities of leadership. But the human relationship is the basis for receptivity and potential trust. And you need those things in order to interact effectively on business issues.
Onward and upward,