Studies have shown that happy employees who feel strongly connected to their companies are more productive than those who are unhappy or disconnected at work. I’ve found that to be true, and it’s why I believe in leading from behind.
Handwriting 6,400 birthday cards every year is time-consuming, but so is running a growing company. I do it because making meaningful connections with my colleagues is just as important as anything else -- if not more so.
The human element sometimes gets lost when leaders think only about ROI. But what they forget is that forging and maintaining personal relationships with colleagues does provide valuable ROI in terms of human capital.
Your colleagues are the face of your company, and if they feel connected to you and your business, they’ll be your best brand advocates. The colleague who feels connected won’t mind a wake-up call during an emergency. In fact, he’ll be proud that he was the one getting the call!
Building these connections means developing a few key habits.
1. Establish all-the-time relationships.
Don’t just have stiff “work relationships” with colleagues. Take things out of the office. Go out to dinner, send cards or gifts for birthdays and anniversaries and attend weddings and funerals. I also have some pen pals: my colleagues’ sick children. I wear bracelets that remind me of them and their struggles.
When you build all-the-time relationships, you’ll find that you have team members who are always willing to go the extra mile. They’ll go above and beyond without even bothering to let you know -- they just do it.
2. Open the lines of communication.
There’s often a disconnect between leaders and the front line. It’s crucial to spend time with your colleagues to learn what’s really happening in your company.
Let everyone know that you’re approachable. Encourage people to talk to you, hand out your cell phone number and open the lines of communication.
3. Remember people’s stories.
Every person has a story, and every story has a hero. Listen to all the stories around you, then remember those stories. That’s why we’re given two ears and one mouth: to listen twice as much as we speak.
A colleague once asked about a health insurance issue pertaining to his wife, needing help. We solved the problem. When I was in his office several months later, I made sure to ask him about his wife and whether she was happy with the coverage. Little things like that go a long way.
4. Match your colleagues’ tone.
While the business was growing, I felt that a daily suit and tie should be my uniform. I thought it would earn respect, but I received feedback that it made me intimidating.
To be more approachable, I began wearing jeans, a dress shirt and a more casual work coat. I immediately recognized a change in how employees perceived me. Suddenly, my staff was much more comfortable approaching me. There’s no reason to let clothes stand in the way of a meaningful connection.
5. Show appreciation always.
It wasn’t difficult to show appreciation when I started with a team of 19 people. Having offices in 31 countries doesn’t mean I no longer have to show appreciation to my team. In addition to birthday cards, I handwrite thank-you notes and send random surprises to people.
This is what I mean by leading from behind. I am behind our great people. I’m their cheerleader, and I continue to watch and gently guide from behind. It takes time, but it’s worth the effort. One person can impact the company’s culture.
All of these habits are simply about putting people first. When you take a more personal approach to leadership, you’ll see human connections flourish in your company culture.
If you have a good relationship with your team members, they’ll rise to the occasion when you set the bar high. When you work hard, they’ll work hard. They’ll see you as more than the “boss.” They’ll see you as a human being they are comfortable interacting with. And the ROI you get from that is invaluable.