Many leaders, especially new leaders, find themselves looking for that “special sauce,” that secret ingredient that will make the difference for them and create a great leadership approach that will make them successful. All too often, people assume that key ingredient is some unlearned technical skill, when in fact it is, quite simply, about making genuine connections between leader and employee. When it comes to connecting leaders and employees, it’s the little things that matter. The cumulative effect from small actions really does add up. No matter how many leadership trainings you’ve attended, if you’re not actually taking the time to connect with your employees, you’re missing the boat. These five practical, actionable strategies will enable you to communicate more effectively, connect more genuinely and earn the respect and admiration of your team.
1. Keep Your Employees “In the Know”
Believe it or not, when asked what employees crave most when it comes to staying motivated at work, the most common answer—even above a raise, bonus or other incentive—is to be kept in the loop. Obviously, some filtering needs to occur around certain issues, but make a point of being as transparent as possible with your employees and providing regular updates. Even if the update is just the status quo report of “Here’s where we are today,” the open communication is greatly valued and desired by your staff. Also, be sure not to rely too heavily on email. In-person contact and conversation should always remain a part of the mix. When people feel more connected, they tend to feel more committed.
2. Remove Barriers
This is about literally removing obstacles or barriers that get in the way of engaging with employees. For example, notice how often you walk down the hallway looking at your smartphone rather than making a point to look people in the eye and say a simple, “Hello,” or “How are you?” If you put yourself on a street in your neighborhood or at a gathering with friends, how would you be coming across if you never looked up to engage? Leave your office door open more often than it’s closed. Put the phone or computer aside. Walk the hallways. Share pleasantries in the break room. Be accessible. Great leaders go out of their way to break through these barriers, perceived or actual, and connect.
3. Spend Time In the Trenches
Being an authentic leader means you can relate to and understand your employees day-to-day challenges. Often times, leaders lose touch. Take the time to sit with people and understand what they do and how they do it. Invite them over to sit side by side on your side of the desk. It’s not about quantity of time, as we all know time is money, but it is about quality of time. Make this a commonplace practice rather than a one-off event. If your employees feel that you understand and appreciate the work they do, they will feel more connected to you and to the company as a whole. It builds credibility and it helps to shape a more authentic point of view for times when you need to address your staff.
4. Listen Proactively
We’ve all heard a lot about how important listening is and the benefits of listening more than you speak. Great leaders are able to turn off the faucet and actually create opportunities for listening. Speak your piece then take the time to say, “I want to hear from you. What are your thoughts?” This is proactively seeking input, proactively inviting your employee to share while you listen. It tells the employee that what they have to say is important to you. Word choice is also important. Instead of simply saying, “What do you think?,” the words, “I want to hear from you” convey genuine interest and receptivity, which helps your employee feel valued.
5. Use Straight Talk
Straight talk involves successfully sharing feedback, the good and the bad. This goes beyond annual performance reviews. Leaders must look for opportunities to build up their employees. Being able to recognize work that supports the company or thoughtfully deliver constructive feedback when something has gone awry is really where the rubber meets the road for leaders. The latter is the most challenging aspect of leadership, often because leaders focus on the reprimand rather than “the why.” Instead of simply telling someone they need to change, offer helpful information as to why this is the case. What effect does it have on the company or on the employee’s fellow workers? Offering “the why” will maintain a healthy connection between you and the employee while more effectively delivering the information you wish to have addressed. You can also invite them to the conversation by telling them you’d like to share some straight talk and asking if that is okay. Having the door of receptivity open before you share feedback is always a good thing!
Amy Fox is President, CEO and founder of Accelerated Business Results, a leader in innovative business learning solutions, and a consultant to Fortune 500 companies on training and sales performance strategies. Learn more at www.AcceleratedBR.com.
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