Successful leaders recognize that people are their most important asset. The challenge, of course, is to maximize the productivity of this essential resource.
Maximizing human productivity is an incredibly important leadership imperative, and one of the toughest tasks leaders face. It is something that cannot be forced, at least not for long. The executive who forcefully demands performance eventually burns out his or her team and fails to build the loyalty needed to sustain long-term performance.
A more effective strategy is to build strong interpersonal relationships that acknowledge that each person is more than just the job they do. The leaders who pursue this path strive to create relationships that are:
- Connected— and
When these key elements characterize the relationship between a leader and their team members, deep bonds of loyalty and commitment form. Job performance improves in both effectiveness and efficiency as people naturally reciprocate for the kind and positive way they are treated.
Authentic relationships are characterized by each party having gained an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of one another. Leaders who diligently work to build such relationships with their people set the foundation for multi-faceted connections with them.
Such connections include insights regarding the life experiences that define one another. They often extend to knowing about a person’s family, their interests and avocations, their plans and aspirations, their worries and concerns.
On the surface, the advantage of nurturing such connections may not appear important. Indeed, some management gurus suggest that leaders must stay aloof from their people in order to be objective and circumspect in their leadership. My experience, however, has been that such leaders alienate themselves from their troops. Their aloofness creates distance, and distance gives rise to job dissatisfaction, and ultimately disloyalty and poor performance.
Several years ago, one of my clients questioned his deep connection with his employees. He noted that because he knew a great deal about the lives of each person, his typical workday began with a stroll through his plant floor where he greeted each team member. He said that he often spent a minute or two with each of them, asking personally relevant questions about their families, their health, or their recent fishing trip. By the time he got to his office, he was often well into the second hour of his busy day. “Too much chit-chat,” he noted. “I’m wasting too much time that could be focused on important work.”
I asked this CEO if he felt that his employees were productive. “Oh yes,” he said. “I have the best team in the industry. They are truly extraordinary.” In a subsequent CEO Forum in which this man participated, I asked his fellow company presidents what they thought of his morning strolls. The consensus was that there was an apparent correlation between his high performing team and his deep connections with them. Others decided to adopt his practice!
Deep connections tend to move us to the third key to high performance: caring. The more authentic and connected we become with another person, the more we truly care about their well-being. We don’t stop expecting strong work on the job, but our interest in the other guy becomes much broader and deeper than that.
Many years ago, my wife and I experienced a family tragedy when both her grandmother and father died within one week. They were both in northern Utah—and we lived in Southern California. It was mid-winter and the roads were treacherous with ice and snow. Nevertheless, we planned to drive.
After letting my boss know the situation, he presented me with four round-trip plane tickets for our family. I protested that the company shouldn’t pay for our airfare, nor should he do so personally. “You don’t need to know who paid for the tickets,” he said. “Just know that you are too important to us to risk on the road.”
I knew then that my boss really cared for me and my family. When I returned from the funerals, I did so with a conviction to do everything in my power to repay his caring in my work.
Show your employees that you truly care about them and it will pay huge dividends in many ways, one of which is high performance.
Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses.