Most leaders proclaim that they’re not a “people person” even though they may act that way. I will sometimes discover through conversations with leaders or their stakeholders that they are spending too much time on tasks that take them away from the important activities involved in relationship-building with others. I may also find that a leader is struggling to manage an organizational change, and it becomes obvious that they aren’t reaching out to the people who could make it a success.
It’s an understatement to say that working solo doesn’t bode well for leaders. If they’re smart, leaders who fail to make the right connections might see that they’re heading for disaster when they become overwhelmed, are unable to accomplish what’s needed or when there is persistent resistance to change. These can be significant turning points for leaders to recognize that they need to modify their ways.
Often, these leader know what they need to do, but it’s more comfortable for them to spend their time doing what they’ve always done rather than make the effort to reach out and connect. The “I don’t have time” excuse no longer cuts it. The time is now, and developing relationships with your followers must be a priority.
The good news is that leaders who are out of their comfort zone when connecting with others can learn to become more people-oriented. If you are one of those who finds you’re struggling to get a change adopted or just can’t seem to get through that tactical “to do” list, you may not be spending enough time building the kind of relationships that will strengthen your ability to lead. Here are some action steps to consider:
Ditch the excuses that you don’t have time, because if you are a leader you must learn to work with others in order to be successful. This is not about time, it’s about what’s most important for success, and developing good relationships is a necessity. Sitting in your office with minimal interaction with others isn’t a strategy for success. You must be a people person in order to be a leader. It’s a learnable skill.
Be strategic about your work relationships. Developing solid, healthy relationships is essential, but that doesn’t mean you have to be friends with everyone. Figure out the essential relationships that you need to develop and then get to work. Determine who you need to reach out to and then connect. Work doesn’t get done by magic. It gets done by people who are clear about their role and are influenced by you. So develop a strategic plan for your relationships just like you’d plan for anything else and then take action.
Find motivation and accountability. You have a lot to do, and your interactions with others will sometimes drain your energy. However if you listen more deeply, you may find that they are interesting and diverse. Seeds of creativity are sown in this listening, and others may have ideas that help you to lead more effectively. Find an accountability partner (peer, mentor, boss, coach) to keep you on track.
Remember to stay balanced. You might be surprised to learn that many introverts make great leaders (Abraham Lincoln may be an example). If you get drained by being around people all day, you may be an introvert; but even extraverts can have their fill of too much people interaction. In any case, make sure that you stay balanced by getting enough time alone to recharge your batteries so you can get back to developing and sustaining the relationships that will make you a great leader.
Leading requires you to lead people; that means you may need to rethink your way of operating to incorporate more time with others. You must become a “people person” in order to be successful at leadership.
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 10 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages large-scale corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.