Seen, Heard and Valued
Traditionally, leaders expected their followers to come to them. The reporting structure flowed in one direction and that was upwards. But as John C. Maxwell explains in his chapter on the Law of Connection in "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership", good leaders know better. They reach out to connect with the people in their organization at an authentic and emotional level.
The direction of connection is not upwards or even downwards. It is circular, a matter of give and take, and the circle starts with the genuine concern of the leader. When people feel their leaders care, they give more to the organization and everyone prospers.
Brene Brown put it well when she said, "I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship."
We rely on technical skills and intellectual know-how. These things are important today. Yet, they are not what makes a team whole and they are not what makes a person a good leader. Brains matter, but hearts lead. People need to feel seen, heard and valued.
How Great Leaders Connect
Think back to the leaders in your life who have had the greatest impact on you. I bet your mind doesn't come up with a list of things those leaders knew. It wasn't about their knowledge. You remember those leaders because of the personal connection you shared. They took the time to get to know you, and to support your best efforts and skills. You felt valued and I bet your performance under the guidance of those leaders was exceptional. It's probably what led you to become a leader yourself.
Where do these true connections start and what keeps them going? Most of all it's about listening, and I don't mean the half-attending most of us do so often in this modern world. You know what I mean. That's when you listen to a podcast and talk to your spouse and watch the road all at the same time. Real listening focuses on one channel at a time. Check out the sidebar in this blog for tips on how to listen well.
Of course, as a leader, you will often be amongst a group of people, but that doesn't mean you can't stick to a one channel at a time. John C. Maxwell calls it "walking slowly through the crowd." Whenever you are with a group of people, pause to connect with the individuals.
The Greater the Challenge, the Bigger the Reward
You can spot great leaders most easily in moments of crisis. They aren't the ones guiding from a distance in a safe office. If there's a flood, they put on their rubber boots. If the people on their team are experiencing a moment of discouragement, they don't sugar coat the situation. They get in there and they listen and they care. The results are transformative for everyone. The crisis may well become an opportunity.
The same is true of difficult people. Great leaders don't favour the pleasant personalities. They seek to connect to everyone. The connections that take more effort to forge are often the strongest. Whether you're reaching out to a pleasant person or someone who is more challenging, the approach is the same:
- Be open and sincere. A calm person willing to listen sets an atmosphere of cooperation.
- Believe in the person. By asking what they think and feel, you show them that their thoughts and feelings are important to you. You let them know they are valued.
- Come to the table with a history of integrity. If you do what you say and follow your own messages, people will be eager to connect with you.
- Give them hope. A great leader is like a bright light under a night sky. Tell them how their efforts will make a difference, paint a picture of success, and people will be glad to follow you.
"A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality." – John Lennon
Call to Action:
The next time you walk into a room of people:
- Talk to the people you do not know. Find out about their life at work and outside of work.
- Talk to the people you do know. Re-establish your connection by following up on what you found out during earlier conversations.
It starts with you. You've got this!