My friend recently told me about meeting his company’s new CEO. He spoke excitedly as he described how this gentleman walked slowly through the office for the better part of a day, stopping at each team member’s cubicle to engage them individually and learn what they were working on. Each of the more than 200 employees got some one-on-one time with their Chief Executive that day, something that none of them had experienced before, as evidenced by the buzz around the office afterward.
Like the sports coach that has a customized handshake for each player, strong leaders know that every team member is a unique human being with their own set of strengths, motivations, and perspectives. To lead them in their uniqueness, you must first see them in their uniqueness.
My friend’s CEO could have introduced himself to the entire team at once, which would have been easier and taken less time. But he chose instead to take the slow way.
He chose instead to say to each person, “I see you. You matter.”
Who was your most impactful schoolteacher? What made him or her so special? Was it their teaching expertise, or was it something else?
I once asked this question of one of our mastermind participants. Without hesitation, she told us about a high school math teacher that had a huge impact on her.
What made the teacher so impactful? Was it her in-depth knowledge of mathematics? No, the impact was created because the teacher had taken the time and energy to value her student and to learn about her ambitions, motivations, and fears.
Through her actions, this teacher was saying, “I see you. You matter.”
It has been said that people may not remember what you said. They may not remember what you did. But they WILL remember how you made them feel.
The Law of Connection
Leadership expert and author John Maxwell teaches The Law of Connection, which says that Leaders Touch a Heart Before They Ask for a Hand.
In order to effectively lead others, we must first connect with their hearts. Their heads will always follow. The way to lead a team is to lead a collection of individuals, each of whom provides an opportunity to connect.
General Norman Schwartzkopf understood this when he said the following:
“I have seen competent leaders who stood in front of a platoon, and all they saw was a platoon. But great leaders stand in front of a platoon and see it as forty-four individuals, each of whom has aspirations, each of whom wants to live, each of whom wants to do good.”
In his autobiography It Doesn’t Take a Hero, General Schwartzkopf tells of a time that he implemented The Law of Connection during the Persian Gulf War. He spent Christmas Day in 1990 with the men and women he was leading.
“I shook hands with everyone in the line, went behind the serving counter to greet the cooks and helpers, and worked my way through the mess hall, hitting every table, wishing everyone Merry Christmas. Then I went into the second and third dining facilities and did the same thing. I came back to the first mess tent and repeated the exercise because, by this time, there was an entirely new set of faces. Then I sat down with some of the troops and had my dinner. In the course of four hours, I must have shaken four thousand hands.”
General Schwartzkopf was saying, “I see you. You matter.”
You’ve Got This
In many ways, leadership is simple but hard. It always requires valuing people, and it always requires a heart connection with those you lead.
My friend’s CEO and General Schwartzkopf both modeled some powerful leadership principles:
- Leaders Go First. Take the initiative to connect.
- Leaders Go to Their People. Get up and meet them where they are.
- Leaders Make It About Others. Learn who they are, what they are working on, their strengths, their motivations, and their fears.
And always tell them, “I see you. You matter.”