By Scott Philips
“So what?” That is my favorite question. When a leader tells me that something is important to them, my next question is, “So what? Does it actually matter enough to do something about it?”
This is often where the conversation ends up with leaders who are feeling disconnected from their teams. They sense that something is amiss. They want things to run more effectively, smoothly, and congenially, but they don’t realize that it is their own distance from their people that is causing the problem. Once they realize this, we head into “so what?” territory. They must decide if it matters enough to do the work it will take to plug back into their team.
Does it really matter if your team is in sync and working as a unit? As the leader, does your investment in your people really make a difference in their success or failure? Does the way you care for and connect with your team impact your outcomes?
We could probably all agree that the answer to these questions is an emphatic YES, but so often and easily these things move to the priority list backburner. Maybe it seems impossible to spend extra time with your people when there are a thousand other demands of leadership constantly at your doorstep. Or maybe that’s just the excuse you use because swimming in relational waters with your team brings up feelings of intimidation and vulnerability.
FACT: Connecting is the beginning of trust. If you take the time to connect with your people, they will feel more valued, be more engaged, and work harder. It is not secondary to your success, it’s vital to it.
We have seen this time and time again in our work with companies. Leaders who take the time to get to know and invest in their people have more successful businesses because they have a more satisfied workforce. If you’re reading this and are thinking, “Yes, but it’s just not in my personality to be all ‘touchy feely’ with my people”, then fear not! What it means to “invest in a team” is going to look different for every leader. Connection is really just closing the gap between you and your people, understanding where they are and what they need from you in order to be successful.
If you’re wondering if you fall in the “disconnected” category, this post is for you. We’ve developed a list of five indicators that may highlight an opportunity to invest more in your people.
- Avoidance and insulation. If you are finding that it is more comfortable staying in your office, eating lunch alone or using the excuse ‘I’m too busy’ to keep from having dialog with one of your people, you are not connecting with your team. Frequently, we hear the saying ‘I have an open door policy’ but if you are sending signals of a ‘closed door’ mentality, you are creating barriers to connection.
- Disharmony and criticism. The great Roman historian Sallust says, “Harmony makes small things grow, lack of it makes great things decay.” If you are seeing disharmony and unhealthy criticism, it is likely that your lack of connection is leading your team toward individualism and disharmony. Connecting breeds common visions, goals and language.
- Skepticism and cynicism. When there is a lack of connection there is frequently a lack of deep dialog and debate. Skepticism is born out of this lack of dialog. Conversely, those that are brought into debate, looking at the advantages and limitations of ideas, are those that find deep resolve and conviction. Without connection, those debates do not happen.
- Individual decisions and agendas. I call this ‘vacuum fillers’. When there is a vacuum caused with a lack of leadership, trust and connection, teams will fill the vacuum on their own. Decisions will be make that run contrary to the vision of the organization. Agendas will be built that favor the individual, not the team or organization. The price of not connecting is enormous.
- Non-Performance. Those teams that lack the connection of the leader typically lack the outcomes of success. Without a clear vision, a laser focus and a leader that can lead their team to those ends, the team will fail. If your team is not hitting the mark, there is a good chance that your lack of connection with them is a significant reason for their non-performance.
If you find yourself relating with one or more of these indicators, good news – you are in good company and there is a way out. It takes intention and discipline to invest in your people in the right way and it’s easy to fall out of these practices when other pressures descend.
That being said, keep in mind that trust is essential for your team to succeed and connection is the first step toward building trust. Your time and attention to connecting with your team will reap significant rewards. Also remember that you can’t connect just one time and expect miracles. The steady dose of connecting, listening, encouraging and leading is what will change the outcomes over time. And it’s worth the investment you make.