Leadership is personal, and in focusing on business goals, leaders can detach themselves from the human element in the workplace. Yet building trust and making a personal connection are key to motivating and engaging employees, which in turn are essential to delivering business results.
A recent study published in Harvard Business Review found three elements necessary for leaders to build trust among employees: positive relationships, good judgment/expertise, and consistency. Positive relationships ranked most important.
Building Positive Relationships is More Important Now Than Ever Before
The study defined “positive relationships” with examples including balancing results with concern for others, staying in touch on their issues and concerns, generating cooperation and resolving conflict with others, and giving honest feedback in a helpful way.
For a leader, building positive relationships goes beyond having conversations about job responsibilities or performance requirements. It means prioritizing time to be visible and consistently connecting with team members where they are. It means showing concern and respect by listening to what people say and responding to what they need.
To make this a habit in your operation, consider:
- Managing by “walking around” (or being present on video calls, these days) to see employees in their day-to-day environment. Ask them what they are working on and listen to their updates and concerns. Stop by the break room, if you’re on-site to say hello at a distance and take the opportunity to hear what people are up to. Take notes on items that need your attention, ensure there is follow-up and prompt response.
- Scheduling regular touchpoints to engage with employees face-to-face via video. In addition to more formal Town Hall meetings, consider informal interactions such as a video lunch for people with birthdays each month, or a casual visit to a manager’s team meeting or huddle. Ask employees what they need to get the job done. When appropriate, share your goals and ask for their input. Above all, listen to what they have to say to show you value them and their contributions.
- Celebrating team and individual accomplishments. Everyone wants to feel appreciated and know that their efforts matter. When team goals are met or individuals go above and beyond what is expected, take the opportunity to personally thank the people involved, whether on a video call or by sending a personal note in the mail. This will help strengthen your relationships and reinforce the importance of their work to business success.
Any of these connection points offer opportunities to get to know employees personally. In addition to asking about work-related topics, observe their at home, or on-site workspace to understand more about what they enjoy and what is important to them. Ask about a photo or something interesting in their work area, talk about a favorite sports team, about their family, or what they enjoy doing outside of work. Talk about things you have in common that will help them get to know you, as well as you knowing more about them. What are the big and little things that matter to them? What are they excited about?
Leading With Emotions in Mind
Another HBR article some years ago examined the sociological and psychological literature about what people look for in leaders. It found that people seek, admire, and respect leaders who produce within them three emotional responses.
- The feeling of significance: People want to feel valued and know that they really matter—no matter how they contribute to an organization. Feeling significant leads to loyalty.
- The feeling of community: Community occurs when people feel a sense of purpose around work and feel a part of something larger than them.
- The feeling of excitement: People want excitement and challenge in their lives. Energy from a leader keeps followers engaged and can inspire them to become leaders.
Keeping employee needs in mind and making purposeful efforts to find a shared connection will build loyalty and trust that will ultimately help team members be better connected with leaders and the business goals, even through the most challenging times.
What are some ways you might make better connections with employees?
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