By Andy Bailey
Has a complete stranger ever shared an intimate detail of his life with you while making (what you thought was) small talk? It can happen anywhere – in the supermarket checkout line or even waiting for a flight at the airport. Whatever the case, odds are you probably felt a little awkward about it – at least initially – and maybe you weren’t quite sure how to respond. Well, that’s totally natural. You’re with a stranger, after all, and there are certain boundaries we’re taught to respect. However, this should not be the dynamic in your workplace. And, if it is, it’s time to fix it and quickly.
There are two places where you should feel at liberty to be yourself – your home and your workplace. This might be a surprise to you, but if you want your team and your business to succeed, you’ve got to create a work environment where trust and transparency are the norm. Unfortunately, this is one of the areas where many businesses are lacking, and it’s usually the result of a leader who lacks a personal connection with her team members, and vice versa. You may have assembled a team of A-players, but you’ve got to open up and get personal if you want to keep them and continue to attract the best talent. You’ve got to be a heart-smart leader if you want to inspire your team, and it’s difficult to accomplish that if they know nothing about your struggles and the ways in which you’ve overcome the obstacles in your life.
Here’s how to start making a personal connection and encourage the same in your team:
1. Open up the lines of communication
There should never be a feeling among your team members that there are things that can’t be discussed. Make a point of announcing your policy of transparency and reassure your team that there won’t be consequences for offering an alternate opinion or speaking up when something feels wrong. Reinforce the notion that you’re all in this together and you have a common purpose. It’s a psychological fact that when you feel like you are part of something important, you are more likely to want success for that group, and in turn, you feel motivated to work hard on its behalf.
2. Have personal conversations.
This may seem like an obvious step, but many leaders aren’t aware that they’re skipping it. After all, you’re busy, and it seems natural to stay laser focused on your work. Not so. Step back and take time to ask employees about how their weekend was or about a recent vacation. You can learn a lot about someone just from hearing about what they do in their free time. Not only that, it will deepen your relationship with your team members and help them understand that they are valued beyond the work that you can do for them. When you know more about someone, it is a lot easier to work for or with them because you’ll get clearer about how to speak to them, what their interests are and what motivates them to succeed.
3. Make yourself available and accessible.
When you get really busy (and you most likely are), it may be your instinct to stay in your office with the door shut and never speak to anyone unless business demands it. However, it’s imperative that you make an effort to show that you are open to anyone who might want to talk. Leave your door open as much as possible and let the members of your team know that they can come in anytime. Sometimes the mere idea of addressing a higher-up in a company directly can be intimidating – especially to newer and younger employees – so you need to remove any assumptions that you’re untouchable. When company communication is a two-way street, comfort levels and morale will boost exponentially.
4. Overcome your fear of vulnerability.
Many leaders tell me that personal conversations are genuinely stressful for them, because they don’t want their team members to see them as vulnerable or weak. Well, having personal conversations is not a weakness. And if fear of vulnerability is getting in the way of connecting with your team, you’ve got to get past it. When you share your successes and failures with your team, they see your human side, and they may find something that they can relate to that motivates or inspires them.
Getting personal can be intimidating. But, as a leader, it’s your job to set the tone for your organization. Lead by example and open up to those around you. Invite them into your life, show them you appreciate them and take time to get to know your whole team on a personal level. After a while, it will become second nature to you, and more importantly, it will become a part of your company culture. So, knock down the walls with your employees and start sharing. I promise that your leadership skills and business results will skyrocket.
Andy Bailey is the author of No Try Only Do: Building a Business on Purpose, Alignment, and Accountability. He is CEO and head coach with business coaching firm Petra Coach and serves in an advisory role on the Gazelles Council, the leaders of the Scale Up movement. Visit his blog on petracoach.com for more business and leadership insight.