If you are a leader and desire to grow in effectiveness, this post is written for you. It does not matter if you manage a department store, oversee a big company, serve as a pastor, elder, or deacon, or simply lead your family, the principles here are universal in their effectiveness.
What is needed to be a leader? Follower(s). To be a leader, it is assumed there is at least one person following you. A leader with no followers is either delusional or rejected. We cannot lead unless people are following us. And that gets to the heart of what I want to write about:
Since leadership is about leading people, then relating well to our people is essential.
Principle #1: Leaders put relationships over tasks.
Now for you doers, you with laminated to-do lists who get fulfillment from checking off tasks, let me say from the beginning that I am not anti-tasks, nor do I think leaders ignore tasks. Tasks are necessary to function as a leader. Scheduling must happen, along with the planning of numerous details. Those things cannot be neglected in order to go hang out with the people. Some jobs call for more tasks than others. So do levels of leadership. The higher you are in an organization, the more you probably delegate.
But surely even you task-masters agree with me that relationships will always be vital to being a leader. If we are not constantly engaging corporately and individually with people we influence, then we will see that influence wain. Tasks alone are not enough to maintain influence. Relationships are organic and must constantly be nurtured in some form or they will slowly wither away.
Strong leaders prioritize well. They know when tasks have to be the focus, and they follow through, but relationships are always high on the priority list. We can never get too far away from being intentional to connect with those we influence.
So what are strategic ways leaders can connect with people without it usurping all their time? Here are some practical ways you can be present while maintaining boundaries that allow you to complete the tasks vying for your attention.
What I am looking for here are low cost, high reward solutions. There will be times when greater investment is needed, but these are the week-to-week ideas that will keep you connected with those you lead. Here are just three of many I find effective:
1. Stock up on postcards— I have found sending three or four notes in the mail to people in my circle of influence is low cost, high reward. I try to be strategic to whom I send them. My context is leading a church. For me, it might be a note to someone who has been out for a while due to illness. I might send one to a leader in our church, thanking them for believing in the vision and investing in our congregation. I might send another to a new member who is looking to get acclimated and could use a greater connection with me.
If you just send three notes a week, in a year you will reach 156 people. Now think for a moment about the number of people in your operation those 156 influence. The influence of your note should benefit them as well, even if indirectly. It’s hard to measure the value of sending a personal note to people we lead. For me, it is priceless.
2. Smile and Acknowledge— It is common for people to wonder just how their leader feels about them. In an organization with lots of people, leaders have very little opportunity for one-on-one contact with most of their people. That is especially true for my setting, a large church. Yet, there are ways to bridge the gap and connect with many without killing yourself in the process.
I’m going to let you in on a secret. You probably will accuse me of exaggerating the effectiveness of this, but it’s so easy. You should try it to see for yourself. The secret is to train yourself (if this does not come naturally) to smile, make eye contact, and acknowledge people directly in passing. When you see them in the hall, in the break room, in their office, in the parking lot, outside of work — wherever you see them, make eye contact, smile, and acknowledge that they exist in your world. If you don’t know their names, then address them generically. In passing, you can say things like good to see you, nice shirt, great job yesterday, have a great day, etc…
I assure you, taking the time to look them in the eye (that is crucial by the way), smile at them (not in a scary or stalker kind of way), and address them will go further than you know. I see results from this personally. There are members in my church I do not get to connect with except in passing, but because I take time to smile, look them in the eye, and acknowledge them, I know they are connecting with me on a personal level.
Now one thing I will caution you on: sincerity is key. If you do not like your people and have venomous thoughts towards them, this will not fly. People are smarter than that. They will call you out, usually behind your back. You have to really care about them. If it comes from a sincere place, this is a powerful tool. Again, it comes at a very low cost to you, but with great reward.
3) Don’t Be Scared To Listen— There is little that gives our people more affirmation they are vital than when we really listen to what they have to say. I am blessed to work with pastors that are extremely talented. While I have the final say on many decisions here, I have found taking the time to listen to their opinion is extremely beneficial. When they are heard, it communicates to them they are valuable. Plus, it earns respect, because the truth about most leaders is, while they are in charge, they are not experts in everything. Pride and insecurity keep a leader from allowing others to give input. Leaders gain respect when they listen to others advice. It shows humility and affirms that person’s value. Confident leaders do not fear being influenced.
I have given you three strategies I use in connecting with those I lead. I would challenge you to try them and see if they bolster your connection with those who follow you. The more our people are connected to us, the greater our influence will be.
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