How Do Inspirational Leaders Get to Know Their People and Connect with Them?
Updated: Oct 8
Have you ever seen those charismatic leaders who have a confident air about them? They move through a room full of people, completely at ease as if there were no where else they'd rather be. They shake hands, slap people on the back and greet everyone with a warm smile. And when their eyes meet yours, for just a moment, it feels like they actually see you. As if they know you very well.
If you’re anything like me, working a room like that is not a super power you possess.
I can think of very few people who have the ability to walk through a room like that and really know everyone they see. The thing about people like that is, most of the time, they don’t really know you.
It Takes More Than a Few Seconds to Really Know Someone
If you want to be an inspirational leader, you need to make it a habit to get to know your people. I’m not saying you need to make a deep soul mate level connection, but successful leaders know how to communicate and connect with people.
It takes time to build relationships and earn trust as a leader. And ultimately, you need to be deserving of trust in order to be an inspirational leader.
A common problem I hear about in the work place is mistrust of leadership. There are several reasons why this can happen but one way to resolve this is to get to know your people. When you are able to connect with your people, they are comfortable around you. They know you're approachable and they can come to you with problems they can't solve on their own. It makes them more productive and your organization will benefit.
But getting to know people goes beyond the superficial. You need to understand what motivates people. And to do this, you need to understand their hopes and dreams and why they do what they do. As a leader, you are in a position to encourage growth and development and support people in their endeavors as they journey towards those hopes and dreams. If you don’t know what those are for your people, then you can’t help them.
Find What Works Best for You
You have to find what works best for you. As an introvert, meeting new people and getting to know them can be exhausting for me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy getting know people but it takes a lot of effort on my part.
One thing that’s worked for me is to have my new employees fill out a questionnaire so I can get to know them better. It also allows me to reference it if I need to jog my memory. I ask about their short and long range goals, professional motivations, hobbies and a fun one: Tell me something about yourself most people don’t know.
I read all of their answers and discuss them with the employee at our meet and greet. It’s a great way to set the tone and put the person at ease and talk about them. I learn so much from these questionnaires and meetings and it gives me a chance to know my people on a deeper level than the superficial.
How Do You Connect?
So you’ve decided you will commit the time and effort to get to know your people. But how do you build those relationships? How do you truly get to know the people in your teams?
1. Focus on Your Attention on the Person
If you’re focused on yourself, you’ll never learn anything about the person you’re talking to.
Think about a time when you had a conversation with someone who acted interested in what you had to say, but you could tell, their attention was divided. Like they were looking for someone or something more interesting. Or they were just waiting for you to finish talking so they could talk about themselves. Don’t be that person.
When you want to know someone, listen to what they have to say. Pay attention to how they're telling you about it. Notice what they don't tell you. Ask questions and be engaged in the conversation. Watch your body language and make sure it says you're interested.
Then do your best to remember pertinent facts about that conversation. If they tell you about their passion for golf or fishing, the next time you see them, ask if they've been golfing or fishing lately. If someone tells you about his daughter's spring dance recital, ask how her dance recital went or if she has other performances coming up.
I hate it when I have what I felt was a deep and meaningful conversation with someone only to realize they didn’t remember anything from it. I get it, you can’t expect everyone to remember everything. It’s just disappointing.
It’s easy to fall into the habit of shaking hands with people, greeting them and asking how they’re doing - and not actually hearing their response. And truthfully, people are in the habit of automatically responding to, "How are you doing?" with, "Good. " Does anyone even hear the response anymore? Look the person in the eye and assess their body language when they respond to you. Is their demeanor different or do they seem a little down or extra cheerful?
When you talk to your team members or subordinates, be genuinely interested in what they have to say. Ask follow-up questions about what they just told you.
2. Let Go of Your Biases
Everyone has biases. I won’t go into how or why that is, but it’s best to let those go before you get to know someone. The person who looks, dresses or talks like your best friend from grade school or mortal enemy from high school is not the same person.
Also, I’ve found people have a habit of sharing their opinions about others. Usually these opinions are on either end of the spectrum of super-amazing or run-of-the-mill dirt bag. Let go of these opinions and get to know the person yourself before you form your own opinion.
When you make the effort to know someone, you may end up surprised. People aren’t just one-dimension and when you get to know someone on a deeper level than the superficial, you’ll see there is more than meets the eye. On the other hand, they may fulfill your expectations. And if this happens, at least you can take comfort in knowing you took the time to get to know someone first.
3. Rethink the Concept of Open Door Policy
Don’t you love it when leaders say they have an open door policy? It sounds so welcoming and cliché. If you haven’t already established that connection and relationship with your team mates, no one is going to be arbitrarily knocking on your door, open or not.
Instead, move your open door to their area of operations. Visit your people often and unexpectedly. You can visit with an agenda in mind or none at all. You get a chance to see them in their element and increase your opportunities to get to know them.
If your team works remotely, reach out to them just to chat. Just because you work remotely doesn't mean you can't visit them virtually.
They might find it a little intrusive and unsettling at first, but if you show that you’re there for friendly reasons, they will get used to it. And before long, that door will truly be open.
Be Consistent and Be Persistent
Not everyone is going to be open and friendly when leaders come around with the intent of getting to know people. Perhaps they’ve had experiences like me where it sounded like they were interested but their body language said something else. Other people are just private individuals.
Respect their boundaries and be consistent about how you try to get to know people. Eventually you’ll earn their trust and maybe they’ll let down their guard. People can tell when someone is being sincere and the best way to show this is to ensure your actions match your words.
Be patient. Connecting with people to develop a relationship takes time. Knowing what’s important to your teammates and subordinates helps you understand them better. And when they know you really care, they will trust you.
Comment Below: What are some ways you like to get to know your people?