Leadership sometimes gets a bad rep. It’s often looked at as the “soft” side of business. Which, if you consider influencing people the soft part of business, you could make a case. But, as I tell leaders all the time, leadership is the hardest skill you will ever learn. You can manage a system, improve products, and create higher levels of standardization, but if you don’t have people who believe in the system, products, and standards you will carry the brunt of the burden by yourself. You can control systems, but must lead people.
If leaders want productive teams they must know their people and facilitate their people knowing each other. Then, they need to be open and free with sharing information about systems, products, and standards. Relationships are the bridges where values are transferred. Relationships establish trust, trust establishes security, security establishes confidence, confidence establishes effective communication, and effective communication establishes production. Unfortunately, not many leaders know their people. Many leaders believe they shouldn’t get to know their employees. Four reasons most cited are:
1. Personal life and professional shouldn’t mix.
Each time I hear this statement I ask these questions, “When you’ve had a fight with your spouse before work, did it affect your production?”, “When a loved one passed away did it affect your workday?”, “When you’ve had financial struggles at home does it affect your business?” The answer is always “yes” to all three. Personal and professional life do mix. Leaders shouldn’t fight this; they need to work with it. Getting to know people personally doesn’t mean they are allowed to act unprofessionally. It means they can feel safe with the leader which will lead to effective communication and greater production.
2. If I get to know people, they’ll take advantage of me
This is a culture problem. If leaders hire people that fit their values, mission, vision, and standards this won’t happen often. If not, it may happen more often but people will still respond better to a relational leader than a distant dictator. Be kind, but not a pushover. Be bold, but not a bully. Hold your standards while cultivating relationship.
3. If I get to know people personally, they will see my weaknesses
This is a great reason for leaders to know their employees. Leaders have weaknesses. In fact, they have more weaknesses than strengths. It’s important for leaders to know their weaknesses, be honest about them, and share them with their employees. An ancient proverb says, “Your strengths are made perfect in weakness.” Where leaders are weak, they have employees who are strong. If they share and delegate their weaknesses it gives them a chance to perfect them. If their employees don’t know their weaknesses, they can’t perfect them.
4. If I get to know people it will hurt if they leave
This is an unavoidable truth. Leaders could spend years getting to know someone who leaves them. Sometimes people leave because they get better opportunity. Sometimes it’s for better pay. Sometimes people move, and sometimes people change careers. People leave and it hurts. Leaders can fight that or work with it. But great leaders build relationships with their people whether they stay or go.
Being a leader can be lonely. Most of your team can’t empathize with the pressures, demands, and responsibilities you have. But they can help carry the load if you let them. Take time to get to know your people. Don’t allow fear, excuses, or doubt to keep you isolated and distant. The closer you draw to your people, the closer they will draw to you. Leadership isn’t a soft skill, it’s hard to be vulnerable, open, and to take risks with people. But if you want to have the type of organization where people love to work, you will put high priority on cultivating and maintaining quality relationships on your team.