My husband and I recently 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. The landscape was breathtakingly beautiful; the architecture was inspirational. I enjoyed the savory food and delectable wine, but what most 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 on the cheek 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”. Over the course of 10 days in Italy, I found this sort of charm and openness to be legitimate in relationships and consistent with most of the people I met. We were also fortunate enough to be in a location that was not populated with tourists. So, our experience was authentically Italian. Whether I was meeting someone in a shop or observing total strangers interact, relationships were the center focus.
This experience caused me to reflect on my own view of relationships and how I interact with strangers, new acquaintances, and even a friend I run into, on the street. I have a tendency to be very focused (especially during work hours). If a specific time was not scheduled, I rush any “interruptions” or “spontaneous encounters” in order to get back to my scheduled agenda. I realize in doing this, I may be missing out on much of the richness of life that my Italian friends have mastered.
As I reflected on my own behaviors in relationships, I began to think about the importance of relationships in leadership. If you have spent any time developing yourself as a leader, you know relationships are a vital part of being successful. I wonder how many of us know this in our head as true (theory) but struggle to genuinely practice it. I realize I do. Even though I have spent years talking about how important relationships are, my short time in another country proved I do not practice it as much as I should.
I am writing this to challenge myself and other leaders like me to make room for spontaneity in relationships and to embrace a less guarded approach… an approach that focuses on the individual and what they are saying and not on the next meeting. I also encourage you (and myself) to not be afraid to appropriately give a hug or a pat on the shoulder. I think we may both discover this to be rewarding both personally and professionally. I am also confident there is a positive unintended by-product of truly connecting with people. Many times, we're looking for all kinds of ways to motivate people. Cultivating relationship frees up that mental energy we're using, because sincere and meaningful relationships are the motivational carrot that brings loyalty, commitment and drive. I realize my behavior may never be as my new friends in Italy; however, I can work to be a little more like them.
What are your thoughts on this subject? If this is an area you would like to further develop in, I'd encourage you to contact us to discuss leadership coaching.