A client and I were talking about how he felt disconnected from his team because of his travel schedule. He knew that he needed to reach out on a more informal basis to his team beyond the obligatory formal monthly one-on-one meetings, which, more often than not, were canceled because of his schedule.
His first idea was to connect with his local team in a casual way, by walking around the office where they worked after he arrived in the morning.
“But we don’t do that here,” my client-leader said. Interesting, I thought, especially because “what they don’t do there” was a simple idea that he’d come up with and could be quite effective. “Why not?” I asked. He was silent; the “why” eluded him, but he knew he didn’t want to stand out, to be different and do something nobody else was doing.
I thought, you don’t talk to each other here? You don’t reach out and occasionally have the kind of small talk that’s required to form and sustain relationships? My observations told me this was true. I don’t see people talking to each other about anything; they seem very busy, heads down at their desks.
“Would you be willing to reach out and have personal conversations with your team if you were courageous?” I asked. OK, this was certainly a leading question (and a challenge). He bit. We discussed the fact that leaders did step out of the box and take risks. And that sometimes, the personal risks — the small, but difficult things that they feel uncomfortable doing — can make the biggest difference to their leadership.
A few other small personal risks come to mind that make a big difference to your leadership:
Including others. You are creating a vision, mission or strategy for moving your organization forward. Or maybe you have some decisions to make about the customers you need to focus on. Perhaps you want to decide on organizational values or change the culture. Don’t do it in a vacuum! Invite your team into the conversation so that they have a say and feel ownership for the end product. The perceived risk here is that you might not get exactly what you want. The benefit is a sense of community and team ownership for outcomes.
Admitting your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Admitting yours and apologizing when appropriate shows that you are human. People want to see your humanity; it helps them to know that you are more like them than different, thus creating a relationship bridge. The perceived risk is that you may believe they will think less of you. The benefit to admitting your mistakes includes creating an open, safe environment for others to make mistakes and admit them, too.
Asking for feedback. If you aren’t in an organization with a culture of feedback — or even if you are — it can feel uncomfortable to ask for it. However, all leaders have blind spots, and getting feedback is one of the best ways to conquer those. Ask for specifics (not just “How am I doing?”) in order to get specifics (“Was the information I gave about X in our meeting today enough so that you can do Y?”). The perceived risk is that you may feel you are showing weakness by asking for feedback. The benefit is that what you hear provides a roadmap for your improvement.
Listening when you want to talk. Something happens sometimes when individuals become leaders; they talk and talk trying to prove that they know everything. Try more listening instead. Deep listening (mouth shut, ears wide open, attention on the speaker) is rare, and you’ll stand out. The perceived risk is that you might think that listening to others signifies agreement with what they say or that you have nothing to add to the discussion. The benefit to listening is that you learn more and develop deeper relationships with others.
Leaders are supposed to take risks, but sometimes the personal ones are the hardest. However, they can also be the most effective.
What risks have you taken that made a difference in your leadership?