In a recent conversation with a client, she expressed to me that her greatest challenge was to communicate better with her team. As I probed why she felt this way, we discovered that her communication was not the main issue; rather, it was her inability to connect with her team on a deeper level.
This lack of connection was negatively impacting her influence with the team and the results they were trying to achieve. Our goal for the session moved from focusing on her communication style to helping her connect more authentically with her team members.
Connection Requires Empathy and Trust
I shared with my client how, at Building Champions, we believe that leaders can transform the way they communicate and connect by increasing the level of empathy and trust they have with their team members.
Empathy is defined as a leader's ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Great leaders look at their people and are filled with compassion for who they are, what they do and who they are becoming. This isn’t a natural ability for any leader, it’s something that can only be learned through experience and acting. Empathy requires you to step into the story of the people you’re leading and experience what life and work are like for them.
Trust is defined as a leader's ability to establish a firm belief in others regarding their reliability, truthfulness, authenticity, and abilities. High-trust leaders follow through on their commitments, admit mistakes, seek forgiveness, and look for ways to help their team members with their personal and professional development goals.
Once we had this foundation set around what’s required for deep connection with team members, we could begin to discuss how a leader could build trust and empathy with their team. I asked my client to listen as I shared what I believe are fundamental questions around empathy and trust that each of her team members is asking at a heart level. They were as follows:
Questions Your Teammates are Asking to Evaluate Empathy
- Do you know me: Do you know my hopes, dreams, priorities and aspirations?
- Do you understand my role: Do you understand the challenges I face each day and what it takes to be successful?
- Are you for me: Are you willing to help me grow and develop as a professional and to advocate for me within the company? And do you desire what is best for me and my career?
Questions Your Teammates are Asking to Evaluate Trust
- Are you someone I can trust: Are you someone whose self-leadership precedes their team leadership, someone who uses our values as a filter for decision making, someone who does what they say they are going to do?
- Can you help me: Do you see the best in me and can you help me achieve more, help me overcome challenges and sharpen me even when it’s uncomfortable?
Moving to Connection
When I was done sharing these questions with my client, there was silence on the phone. At first I thought she’d hung up on me, but after a while, I heard her sigh, and then she said, "You know, I'm asking these same questions about the person I report to — I had no idea until you articulated them."
This exercise was eye-opening for my client. Her action plan coming out of our session was to schedule one-on-one time with each of her direct reports to begin learning more about each of their stories by asking questions. I encouraged her to look for both formal and informal opportunities to do this such as conversations over coffee or sharing a meal.
Every executive I've had the privilege to work with comes into coaching with the ability to communicate very well, but only a few of them are able to deeply connect with the people they lead.
How would you rate your level of connection with your team? What’s at stake if you don't deepen that connection?
This post was originally published at coachdanfoster.com.