I have always seen leadership as a privilege, something I was called and blessed to do. When a servant leader has the privilege of leading a group of people, they don’t see their team members as members of a team, as just an analyst who has certain skills that are valuable to a team, for example. No, they see them as unique individuals created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), with their own hopes, dreams, fears, etc.
I don’t know how you can effectively lead people if you don’t truly know them. That’s why my first meeting with a new team member always focused on them as an individual, and not about the work they were going to do. I wanted to know about them and what was important to them. I wanted to know about their family, their interests – what hobbies, books, movies, music, sports teams, travel destinations, restaurants, etc., they enjoyed. What are their dreams and goals for the future – job related, education, family, etc. What are their concerns or fears – children, financial, etc. That helped establish a connection between me and the new team member. If I knew that someone followed a certain college football team, I would make sure I knew what that team did on Saturday, so that I could mention it on Monday, for example. Jason Romano, in his book The Uniform of Leadership, writes “When you show those you lead that you care about their entire lives, both at work and outside of work, you show them value.”
Establishing that connection can help both you and your team member as you begin to work together. For example, I remember one new team member who told me that they would take their father to cancer treatments on Fridays, which is why she worked a 4-day, 10-hour work week, with Friday off. I would remember to ask her about her father from time to time, and because she had shared that information with me, I was not surprised if she needed additional time away from the office, or to work from home, when she needed to care for her father.
One of my leaders would schedule a short meeting each year on your birthday. That meeting was entirely personal, not at all about work. The best example of connecting that I saw was one of my executives. Terry stands out as someone who excelled in connecting with those he led. Whenever he moved to a new area, or a new leader came into his area, he would meet with them for the purpose of making a connection. It was more than a typical “Meet and Greet”. He would run the meeting, asking the questions, none of which had to do with work. In these meetings, he listened closely, truly demonstrating that he cared about you as an individual.
It’s funny thinking back to my meeting with him, and his takeaways about me. He remembered that I left my wife a note each weekday morning. Because of that, he called me “Casanova”. He picked up that we almost always ate out, and I never ate leftovers. He also remembered that my wife and I would go to the movies every Friday night. As we worked on the same floor of our office campus, we would often run into each other. He used the information he had obtained in our meeting, to make a personal connection. Even years after our meeting, he would often ask “What movie are you going to this week”? Or, “What good movies have you seen lately”? That would make me feel good, knowing that my leader, two levels above me, knew something about me. Making a personal connection with those you lead can make them feel special and valued.
What are some “best practices” you use, or are aware of, of leaders connecting with those they lead?