Over the past few weeks, I have been involved with conversations that were mostly centered on how to deal with personnel concerns. One of the first questions I ask is how well is your relationship with said person? Do you have one? Is it cordial or is it nonexistent? Today, I wanted to share this brief synopsis from The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell that I strive to do every single day.
Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand
When it comes to working with people, the heart comes before the head. That’s true whether you are communicating to a stadium full of people, leading a team meeting or trying to relate to your spouse or loved one. For leaders to be effective, they need to connect with people. Why? Because you first have to touch peoples’ hearts before you ask them for a hand. That is the Law of Connection. All great leaders and communicators recognize this truth and act on it most instinctively. You can’t move people to action unless you first move them with emotion.
Good leaders work at connecting with others all the time, whether they are communicating to an entire organization or working with a single individual. The stronger the relationship you form with followers, the greater the connection you forge — and the more likely those followers will be to want to help you. An excellent example of a leader who was able to connect with both audiences and individuals was President Ronald Reagan. His ability to develop rapport with an audience is reflected in the nickname he received as president: the Great Communicator. But he also had the ability to touch the hearts of the individuals close to him. He really could have been called the Great Connector.
One key to connecting with others is recognizing that even in a group, you have to relate to people as individuals. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf said, “I have seen competent leaders who stood in front of a platoon and all they saw was a platoon. But great leaders stand in front of a platoon and see it as forty-four individuals, each of whom has aspirations, each of whom wants to live, each of whom wants to do good.”
Some leaders have problems with the Law of Connection because they believe that connecting is the responsibility of the followers. This is especially true of positional leaders. They often think, “I’m the boss. I have the position. These are my employees. Let them come to me.” But successful leaders who obey the Law of Connection are always initiators. They take the first step with others and then continue the effort to build relationships. That’s not always easy, but it’s important to the success of the organization. A leader has to do it, no matter how many obstacles there might be.
So how do I connect with people? On most days, I swing through the MDG to do “drive-bys.” This is an opportunity for me to check on people, see how they’re doing, and offer assistance or support as needed, and develop stronger and better relationships. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I also make myself available, learn peoples’ names and I do a lot of listening.
Guidelines to help you connect better as a leader
• Connect with yourself — You must know who you are and have confidence in yourself if you desire to connect with others. Be confident and be yourself. If you don’t believe in who you are and where you want to lead, work on that before doing anything else.
• Communicate with openness and sincerity — People can smell phony a mile away. Legendary NFL coach Bill Walsh observed, “Nothing is more effective than sincere, accurate praise, and nothing is lamer than a cookie-cutter compliment.” Authentic leaders connect.
• Know your audience — When you work with individuals, knowing your audience means learning peoples’ names, finding out about their histories, knowing their dreams. You want to speak to what they care about, not just what you care about.
• Live your message — Practice what you preach. That’s where credibility comes from.
• Go to where they are — Be attuned to others’ culture, background, education and so on. Adapt to others; don’t expect people to adapt to you.
• Focus on them, not yourself — Focusing on yourself is the number one problem of ineffective leaders. You will always connect faster when your focus is not on yourself.
• Believe in your people — People’s opinion of us has less to do with what they see in us than it does with what we can help them see in themselves. Communicate with people because you believe they have value.
Don’t ever underestimate the importance of building relational bridges between yourself and the people you lead. There’s an old saying, “To lead yourself, use your head; to lead others, use your heart.” That’s the nature of the Law of Connection. Always touch a person’s heart before you ask them for a hand. Know and like who you are, walk slowly through a crowd and make connections with people and learn to be a good communicator.