Too many leaders lead by assumption. I was reminded of this starkly this past week when I coached an executive team grappling with production issues. In this case, after a deep dive into what was really going on, it transpired that a few key members of the team held their own specific data on the issue and withheld that data from the executive team. Even though the facts did not add up, leaders assumed they had the whole picture, did not seek to understand and made a pretty big decision on that basis. They assumed they had the full view when they were instead staring at the issue through a key hole.
In my view, one of the greatest antidotes to assumption is connecting through collaboration, listening, empowerment, asking questions and seeking understanding. Connecting is the basis for compassionate leadership and is about asking the right questions and listening deeply to their answers. And by listening I mean talking no more than 10% of the time and listening for the remaining 90%.
Learning to connect is one of the most important things you can do ever do in your life. People can usually trace their successes and failures to their relationships, and this is especially evident in leadership. You must find ways to overcome the challenges and find common ground. This is sometimes a difficult process, especially with a varied team. Here are some ways I have found to be most important to a leader who genuinely wants to connect with others.
The first step is to let people know you need them. It’s about knowing your strengths and using them to help others. The core of a real connection is humility. It’s about bringing out the best in you and the people around you and co-elevating each other. Compassionate leaders are aware they need other people and they let them know that. It keeps your ego in check, draws team members into the centre and it enables you to fulfil your vision. So, if you want to be a better connector, acknowledge your shortcomings and need for others, and be willing to ask for help.
The second step is about curiosity. I am known for asking questions. I am curious about understanding every person. But I got my start as a questioner by asking questions of myself and these questions helped me at mid-life to set myself up for potentially a good second-half. Too many leaders don’t ask enough questions of themselves and of others. There are numerous reasons, such as assuming they have all the answers, not recognising the need to find common ground and prioritising directing others over understanding others. They also do not understand that questions support managing expectations. I strongly believe that disappointment is the gap between expectation and reality.
Albert Einstein said: “A person starts to live when he can live outside himself.” It could also be said that a person starts to give when he lives outside himself and giving is a great way to connect with others. Generosity makes you a better leader and paves the way for you to connect with other people.
The best door to connecting with people, though, is listening. Listening, not to answer, but to understand. If you never listen, before long the people around you will stop talking to you and you’ll end up isolated as a leader. If you do listen, not only will your team share with you things you need to know but they will also connect with you because they see you care and that you value what they say.
Connecting is one of the most valuable shifts you will ever make as a compassionate leader. Not only will ideas improve, so will relationships. People will work better together and as the team gets stronger, problems are solved more quickly.
Will it take time to build these connections? Absolutely! In the long run, you’ll save time and you and your team will co-elevate into a much higher level.