The more people see you as a real person, the more likely they are to follow you.
And yet, a common mistake that new managers and team leaders make is to use a classic command and control leadership style. For anyone who’s experienced this style first-hand, it can make the person less human, more machine.
More than ever, it’s critical for both new and experienced leaders to recognize that before you can lead or collaborate with someone, you have to connect with them first.
Without connection, there is no trust. Without trust, there is no relationship. Without a relationship, there can be very little else.
In “The Three Elements of Trust”, HBR reports that relationships have the biggest impact on how much people trust their leaders (trumping even consistency).
And if you’ve got older or more cynical members in your team, building trust is even harder.
Using Dan Pink’s Pixar Pitch technique, here’s a critical situation I experienced a few years ago where trust was badly damaged:
Once upon a time there was an ambitious young project manager who was tasked to create a global sales tool to be rolled out across the entire organization.
Every day, he pushed his team to keep the unrealistic deadlines.
One day, worried they were falling too far behind, he escalated the project status to “critical” thus involving upper management.
Because of that, the trust between him and team was destroyed.
Because of that, the conflict grew and the motivation to move forward shrunk to zero.
Until finally, they managed to successfully roll out a pilot in a few countries but were completely “stuck”… and the big roll-out was still ahead of them.
If you like the simplicity of this pitch, Mr. Pink offers up a few more:
With a more human approach to leading this team, I believe the above situation could have been avoided
There’s no sure-fire formula for connecting with others. However, you can increase your chances by using these strategies right from the start:
3 Strategies to Connect
1. Get to know your team members personally, and let them get to know you.
This strategy creates common ground, mutual sympathy and a solid foundation for a trusting relationship.
You: “What was the best thing about your holiday on Corsica?”
Direct report: “I really liked the diversity of the island – mountains, forests and tropical beaches”.
You: “That sounds quite diverse. How did you get around the island?”
Report: “We rented a car and drove around the island, stopping at attractive beaches and other sites. It’s also a nice mix of Italy and France – food, culture, language.”
You: “My wife and I have always wanted to visit Corsica. We both love visiting Italy and France. Can I come to you for some tips before we go?”
Report: “Sure, please do.”
Tip: Ask them real questions, listen to their answers and offer information about yourself (personal info helps them get to know the real you).
2. Seek to understand their goals & aspirations, not just strengths & weaknesses.
This strategy shows that you’re interested in their development (beyond what they can do for you right now). It also creates ownership – a must-have for their real motivation!
You: “How would you assess your public speaking ability?”
Report: “I think I could improve this skill…actually, I’ve been wanting to improve this…”
You: “OK, I also see this as a an area you could improve. How might you develop your skills in this area?”
Report: “Actually, there’s an interesting workshop I’ve been looking at…”
You: “What would be realistic option to develop this skill right now? How can I support?”
Tip: Explore options together and co-create a development plan. They’ll tell you want they need, not the other way around (key to ownership). You are there for support and guidance.
3. Collaborate like they are partners, not followers.
If they feel like a partner, they’ll be motivated to help you.
You: “I know you have experience in this area, I could really use your input on this. Could you brief me on an effective course of action here?”
Report: “Sure, I’d be happy to. And you know what else I…”
Tip: Look for opportunities to consult with them and make decisions together (acknowledge their expertise and you’ll for sure spark their interest).
As illustrated in these 3 strategies, in order to go fast, you need to start slow.
It takes time to build real, genuine trust. But once you have it, everything else falls into place.
Rule of thumb: Connect first, lead and collaborate second.
In conclusion, here are 3 actionable tips to help you get started:
- Share personal information to show your human side, including your challenges, fears, etc.
- Always offer your support, even if only in the form of brainstorming.
- Ask for their help, don’t order (even if you have the direct authority).
This will improve the quality of your relationships and the quality of your collaboration.
Which of these strategies have you tried? What tip can you add to mine?