As a coach and leader myself, I am often looking for meaningful metaphors to demonstrate how leaders can be more successful. I was recently reminded of the importance of relationships in leadership when my husband and I traveled to Italy with several of our family members. We were fortunate enough to be hosted by dear friends of my in-laws who are natives of Pesaro. Though the landscape was breathtakingly beautiful, the architecture was inspirational, and I enjoyed the savory food and delectable wine, what impressed me most was the allure and authenticity of the people and their relationships.
From the moment we met our new “friends,” we were embraced as family. We did not have to “do” anything to earn or deserve their affection. We didn’t even have to “wait” for a certain period of time to prove ourselves. In fact, it was quite the opposite. We were welcomed with warm smiles, holding of hands, sincere hugs, kisses and instantly meaningful conversation.
I immediately became skeptical (even though I loved it). I thought, “This is just because they are long-term friends of my in-laws.” But over the course of 10 days in Italy, I found this sort of charm and openness to be consistent in most of the people I met.
Even though this behavior was observed in a shop or a market and not in a boardroom, the lesson is the same: Relationships were the center focus.
Recognizing Our Segmented Approach to Leadership
This experience caused me to reflect on my own view of relationships and how I interact with strangers, new acquaintances and colleagues. I have a tendency to be very focused (especially during work hours). If a specific meeting time was not scheduled, I rush any “interruptions” or “spontaneous encounters” in order to get back to my scheduled agenda. On the other hand, when my work is done and it is time for social and/or family time, then I shift my focus and energy there.
Unfortunately, life is not so black and white, and this segmented style of leadership does not enhance or develop relationships. I realized that in doing this, I might be missing out on much of the richness of life that my Italian friends have mastered.
As leaders, we need to be self-aware of our strengths as well as our challenges, especially when our challenges are an overuse of our strengths. My ability to focus is a strength. However, when overused, I miss opportunities: opportunities to be in the moment, learn more about someone, what motivates them, their ideas, struggles or just what they did over the weekend.
The saying is still true, “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The question we must ask ourselves then is how do we balance focus and drive with openness and spontaneity, especially as it pertains to relationships?
Making Room for Meaningful Relationships in Business
The byproduct of truly connecting with people, both personally and professionally, is that it creates trust and provides the proverbial “motivational carrot” that brings loyalty, commitment and drive in organizations. For example, due to the nature of our work as coaches and consultants, most of our team members are part-time contractors. There have been times I am working on a project that would greatly benefit from the expertise of one of the other team members who is not necessarily delivering that particular service. Fortunately for me and our clients, all of our team members will do their best to make themselves available, not because they will be paid, but because of the value we all place on our relationships.
With my Italian inspiration, I am committing to making changes in my own leadership. I will commit to “be in the moment” more often, to ask questions of genuine interest rather than deliver a statement that is congenial but shuts down the conversation, and I will allow time in my schedule to be more flexible.
What will you do? Below are a few suggestions you may find helpful:
- Consider scheduling time to practice “spontaneity” in relationships and to embrace a less guarded or “too busy” approach throughout your day.
- Take on a mindset of genuine curiosity. Ask open-ended questions.
- Take the time to connect, listen and focus on the individual in front of you.
- Focus on what they are saying and not on the next meeting or what you need to get done.
- Don’t be afraid to show sincere warmth and give a hug or a pat on the shoulder when appropriate.
- Consider also giving this time and attention freely, without requiring the person to earn or deserve it, hold a certain position, or have the ability to help you.
Do you find yourself cultivating strong relationships in your leadership? What has been the impact of doing so, or not?
This article originally appeared on Forbes.