It’s not enough for business leaders to merely be “the man (or woman) behind the curtain” anymore.
In a world that’s rapidly becoming more technology driven, managers and executives must put in extra effort to create human relationships with their people — connections that are necessary for any organization to thrive in a complex and competitive marketplace.
The more your business is centered around artificial intelligence, robotics or other digital technologies, the more effort you have to make to be human and to create human relationships, to pry people away from their smartphones, to have face-to-face conversations, to appreciate people and to be honest.
Sure, digital awareness skills and abilities are important, but the more tech-focused we get, the more human leadership there has to be. Otherwise you’re just “behind the curtain.” Plenty of executives lead that way anyway, but in this environment you have to take greater steps to be more real — and effective — than the Wizard of Oz.
These are three behaviors that will help leaders make more meaningful connections with their people.
- Be trustworthy and fair. Whether your people see you regularly in person or you stay “behind the curtain,” your team has to be able to trust that what you say is the truth. That doesn’t necessarily mean you always share everything you know, but everything you do say has to be true. If you can’t share an answer to a question or some other information for a legal or strategic reason, then be upfront about that. Don’t make something else up, dance around it or shade the truth. You could say something like: “Because of FCC rules, because of a board vote, because of competitive pressures, I can’t go into this right now, but rest assured we are working on it and at the appropriate time we’ll share everything you need to know and everything you want to know.” When you speak you should tell the truth, and if the truth changes you should go back to your people and explain why.
- Be personal and approachable. The second vital behavior for leaders is that even if you stay “behind the curtain” and all anybody sees is the smoke and the floating face of the “wizard,” you still have to figure out how to be personable and approachable. Your people still need to feel that you’re a human being — and that they’re being treated as human beings. That means if you bump into each other in the hallway, you stop, look him or her in the eye and talk directly to that person. Don’t look down at your mobile device, mumble something and keep going. Don’t be that leader who’s going to the penthouse 40 floors up but doesn’t say anything in an elevator full of employees. If you struggle to make human connections with your team, consider holding office hours in the cafeteria two times a month for a few hours and announcing it to your team by offering to chat or answer questions. Maybe just two people will show up the first time. But the next time four people will attend, then eight. Before long you will have made real strides in changing the vibe in your organization.
- Provide and acknowledge meaning. This can be a hard one for baby boomers, who, broadly speaking, are often happy just to have a job. But today’s reality is that there are younger generations in the workforce who, while certainly happy to have a job, care more about the values that they hold and the meaning they derive from their work than previous generations have. In this case, the CEO will rarely be the person who regularly acknowledges meaning for low-level employees, but they can still do it periodically. Managers, however, can absolutely help in this regard by building this behavior into their regular interactions with direct reports. These acknowledgments of meaning can take place in performance conversations, weekly catch-ups or conference calls. They could be as simple as saying “Here’s how the work that you’re doing ties to our mission. Here’s how the work that you are doing is enabling our customers to do X, Y and Z. Here’s how what you’re doing, Bob, is moving this project forward exponentially.” Everybody wants to know that what they’re doing is not only important and appreciated, but fits in with the values and the mission of the company.
Increasingly complex times demand dynamic leadership, which calls upon business leaders to step out from behind the curtain and connect with their people on a genuine human level.