When I got my first title as manager, I was excited about my career trajectory as a leader.
I was a young professional with a degree in management. I was innovative, efficient, and productive at leading my team. My organization’s executive leadership thought I was doing a great job; they even rewarded me with more staff and expanded scope. Everything was perfect… until a sobering experience taught me that I had not been leading at all. I had been merely managing. I had been maintaining processes while barking orders rather than leading human beings.
Leading the Human Being vs. Managing the Human Doing
I was oblivious to my leadership failure until the leaders at our organization came up with the bright idea of getting feedback from employees regarding their direct manager via an anonymous survey. Up to that point, I was so confident in my leadership abilities that I even volunteered to help create the survey questions.
Imagine my surprise when I tore open the sealed envelope that revealed my results: I was the second-lowest-rated leader in the entire organization! I could not believe my eyes. I was positive there had to be a mistake. But no, the scores were there, staring daggers at me.
HOW TO BE A BETTER LEADER
Flustered and ashamed, I decided to approach Roger, my director, for feedback on how I could improve. I will never forget what Roger asked me that day in response to my shock over my scores. He leaned back in his chair and asked, “Have you asked your staff what you can do to be a better leader?” I told him I had not, but on the inside, I thought, “How in the world do I do that without embarrassing myself?”
As uncomfortable as it was, I took his advice and sought my team’s help. In a meeting, I admitted I wanted to be a better leader and asked them what I could do differently.
They hesitated to speak up at first, but when they did, every one of their answers revolved around treating them like human beings. Asking about their weekend. Showing I care when they express worrisome personal issues. Sharing excitement when they accomplish something personally outside of their job.
WALK SLOWLY THROUGH THE CROWD
I nodded silently and received their suggestions. But truthfully, I thought that was a waste of time. We were there to do a job, not chat it up all day.
But when I returned to my office, my survey results reminded me I had work to do. Dr. John Maxwell, leadership expert, says that “experience is not the best teacher; evaluated experience is the best teacher.” So I gave myself some time to evaluate my results and think about my staff’s feedback.
I realized that I had scored great on everything that revolved around tasks. But when it came to relationships – connecting with my team – I had failed miserably, and that’s what they were trying to say to me.
I decided to receive this humbling news from my staff as a gift – a wake-up call that I needed to change. I decided not to move so quickly and instead, “walk slowly through the crowd,” as John Maxwell encourages. I decided to be friendlier. To have personal conversations. To ask questions to show that I care. It was difficult – as an introvert I hate small talk, and as a task-oriented person, my idea of success is purely task completion. But it was so worth it.
RELATIONAL LEADERSHIP YIELDS RESULTS
In his executive leadership guidebook The 5 Levels of Leadership, John Maxwell describes the importance of moving from level 1 leadership, which is about your leadership position, to level 2, which revolves around relationships. He says,
Connecting is having the ability to identify with and relate to people in such a way that it increases your influence with them… if you want people to be positive and to always be glad when they see you coming, encourage them. If you become the chief encourager of the people on your team, they will work hard and strive to meet your expectations.
By consistently focusing on relationships and leading the human being rather than managing the human doing, I saw my team warm up to me, enjoy their work more, and improve their productivity. Plus, my task of leading them became easier and much more enjoyable!
Being highly relational does not come naturally to me. It continues to be a daily struggle to slow down in my fast-paced, task-oriented world. But when I intentionally focus on connecting, I see direct results: stronger relationships and greater influence.
And who wouldn’t want that?
About Antoinette Griffin
Speaker, executive coach, and business leader Antoinette Griffin leverages her decades of corporate leadership experience to help her fellow leaders guide their teams toward success. She is a Maxwell Leadership Certified Team faculty member, and also a business instructor at the University of Texas.
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