We’ve all heard our fair share of leadership quotes over the years. Some are so inspiring and applicable that they’re featured on plaques and posters, while others are fine in certain situations, but don’t offer the same universal appeal.
One of my favorites is a quote from the late, great basketball coach, John Wooden:
The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.
I’d say this one certainly falls into the former category. To me, a great leader is someone who upholds a certain standard of character, and not just when he or she is in the spotlight. It’s someone who makes decisions thoughtfully, and treats all people with respect. And that means taking the time to build quality relationships with every member of the team – not just those in high positions.
I thought about this when reading John Mason’s recent blog, in which he identified five ways in which leaders can develop stronger work relationships. One of them was to make contact with your employees when nothing is at stake. “Nothing says you don’t care more than only talking to someone when you need something,” wrote the former CIO of Hill Country Memorial. “I have had bosses who would never grace the door of my office until they needed something. It was those leaders who I knew really didn’t care about me as a person, and likely didn’t see me as anything more than a way to get something done.”
It made me think — how often do we do this? Do we call, email, or talk to people just to check in, and not just when we need something? If not, it’s a skill that we need to develop, particularly as more millennials enter the workforce. Why? Because, according to a Harvard Business Review article, this group is “not satisfied only with a paycheck, bonus, and benefits. They want meaning, happiness, and connectedness, too.”
If you just rolled your eyes, I don’t blame you. Not one bit.
But like it or not, there is a growing demand that leaders are able to form personal and meaningful bonds with the people they lead.
This, however, is often easier said than done.
About 70 percent of leaders rate themselves as inspiring and motivating, which stands in “stark contrast to how employees perceive their leaders,” according to HBR, which cited a 2016 Gallup engagement survey which found that 82 percent of employees see their leaders as fundamentally uninspiring.
Yikes. I’d say that is a very stark contrast.
On the other hand, leaders who truly understand their employees’ needs for meaning, happiness, and human connectedness are able to enable “strong loyalty, engagement and performance.”
So how can this be accomplished?
Mason believes the key is taking an interest in your employees as human beings, something that was discouraged in the past for fear of losing a sense of authority. “When you try to keep your distance from your team, all you do is make yourself seem more impersonal and uncaring. That, in effect, alienates your team, and puts you in an ‘us vs. them’ mentality,” he said.
And taking an interest doesn’t have to mean going out to happy hour; it can mean scheduling a one-on-one coffee or lunch with individuals, or simply stopping by peoples’ desks to chat. It means asking about their families and their weekend plans, and actually listening. I’ve had managers who knew a lot about my personal life, and those who knew next to nothing, and there’s no question which situation made me feel more loyal and engaged.
When Anthony and I meet in person or speak on our staff calls, there’s always time for personal discussions. And because he’s always made a point to do it, it doesn’t feel fake or forced, and it has helped three people who don’t work in the same location to get to know each other well.
And as a result, Nancy and I know that he cares about us individuals, and not just employees, and therefore, we’re willing to go the extra mile when needed.
So although this might not be the most plaque-worthy statement, it’s an important one: if you want to get the most from your people, you need to get personal.