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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #129: The Communication Shift: Seven Ways to Connect and Not Direct

March 25, 2021
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #129: The Communication Shift: Seven Ways to Connect and Not Direct

The example of leadership many of us saw and experienced in our early years was one of a boss directing the team on what to do. When we become the boss, we quickly learn that leading is about more than being the boss, it’s about influence. Today, Chris and Perry discuss The Communication Shift: seven ways you can shift in your leadership from directing people to connecting with people.

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Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, Vice President of The John Maxwell Company. Welcome, and thank you for joining. If you’d like to download a learner’s guide for today’s episode, or maybe even check out the weekly blog that compliments this podcast topic that Perry writes I’d love for you to visit You can also leave a question or a comment for Perry or maybe even a future topic that you’d like for us to unpack a little bit for you around leadership, leadership culture. Well, I’m a little disappointed. I’m just going to have to let you know-

Perry Holley:    Here it comes.

Chris Goede:     Here it goes. Perry loves his number five, and I’m grateful for him because we love The Five Levels of Leadership. But a couple of episodes ago, he brought the number 12 to us, and that was really confusing. Today, Perry seven? What’s going on?

Perry Holley:    It’s just got to be a good day.

Chris Goede:     So this may be Perry’s last podcast. I’m just kidding, I couldn’t do this without you. But we’re wrapping up a series on this leader shift, the shift that leaders need to make in order to continue to grow, continue to maximize their influence, and really be effective and efficient as a leader for their organization, and really to continue to improve their leadership culture. And so today we’re going to talk about the communication shift, seven ways to connect and not direct. Love it. What are you thinking here, Perry?

Perry Holley:    Yeah. From the earliest jobs as a teenager that I had coming up, the model of leadership that I got to see was that of a boss person, a man, or a woman telling others mostly me what to do. And when I became a first-line manager in my mid twenties, my first real titled leadership job, I took on that aura of being the boss. We would call it level one, telling people what to do. But I learned pretty quick there that bossing is not leading it’s just kind of being bossy and it doesn’t lead to what we teach as leadership is influencing what I really want to do. So I needed to make that shift from directing people, to connecting with people, which meant that I needed to learn how you connect. And I find this to be something I was telling you earlier that we just say, “We just need to connect more. Level two, connect. Be sure to connect.” And I don’t really offer a lot of help on how do you connect? And I thought this would be a great time to share some ideas, maybe seven ways or more, but I didn’t want to go less because that would really upset you at five. So what are seven ways that we can help people learn to connect?

Chris Goede:     Yeah. I love this. Absolutely love it. And I love the common language that you were using about talking about level one, right. And this is the five levels leadership, level one. Basically you have influence because of your position and people follow you because they have to. You’re the boss, you’re leading with the ruler until the ruler breaks. But really what we want to talk about is going and connecting with them at level two, where we’re building these relationships, connecting with them, getting their buy-in, getting their discretionary effort with the proper motive is what we’d like to talk about.

So what I thought we’d do before we jump into the seven ways that you’ve come up with for us, I kind of have a list here of the difference maybe between directing and connecting. So directing again, back to this level one skillset, connecting is this level two, our goal is to get you to move as quickly as possible with everybody that you lead individually now, you can’t do it collectively. You can’t walk in and say, “Well, I went from level one to level two last night. I woke up and ate my Wheaties. I feel good.”

No, it’s individually based, but here are some things that I just want to share with you. So directing would be being authoritative versus being collaborative. Directing would be talking, connecting would be listening. We could just stop the episode right there. There’s a lot of leaders out there that like to hear themselves talk. Directing would be, hey, this is a top down organization or a team, connecting would be, Hey, this is side-by-side we’re in this together. Like we’re part of this team. Level one, directing would be enlisting versus connecting would be empowering. Another one is directing would be assuming, connecting would be understanding. And then the last one that I’ll share with you is really directing would be this is my agenda versus this is our agenda. And I think those are just same things, we just want you to get you in the mindset of where we’re going as we talk about these of going, “Hey, how do I get to the point to where I’m connecting versus directing?”

Perry Holley:    Well I was really good at the directing column as you were reading it, but it doesn’t lead to the long-term outcome-

Chris Goede:     That’s right. Long-term.

Perry Holley:    … results that I want it. You can get short term results by being that person. But as we talk about that engagement level, people are going to eventually put the oar down and not row, or even try to sink your boat. You want to have people rowing so I want to be this connecting person.

Chris Goede:     You can get long-term turnover results with that.

Perry Holley:    You can-

Chris Goede:     Your turnover . You will have long-term results if you stay there.

Perry Holley:    All right, the seven let’s go through them quickly. But number one, humility. I have to ask you, why would humility be a factor in connecting with people? And it’s really, when I think about humility, a solid definition I liked is not being preoccupied with yourself. That really sends a message to people that they matter. And you’re communicating really that you need them and that you don’t have all the answers. I’m not the be all end all of this and that I find humility is really a very attractive leadership quality. And it kind of moves people from following because they have to, to following because they want to, that level one to level two jump. But what’s your thought on humility?

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Chris Goede:     Well, here’s the first thing I thought about, I’m just going to be transparent, real-time was what’s the opposite of humility and would I want to follow that?

Perry Holley:    Right.

Chris Goede:     The answer’s no. The answer’s no, because I’ve had that experience in the past with certain leaders. And so I was thinking as we’re walking through these fairly quickly, man, I think a question to ask yourself is what’s the opposite of what Perry’s brought to the table today and do I want to be known for that as a leader?

Perry Holley:    Right.

Chris Goede:     And the answer is no. And so I think this humility is something that is not talked about enough when it comes to leaders. Oftentimes people think about… I’ve talked about executive presence. Well, they got to have this aura and this… Right. No, that’s not it at all. So number two, I love this curiosity, right. Ask people questions, don’t assume that you know the answers and value what others think, learn to understand them. I think this also drives inclusivity which we were just talking about with Jake today before we started recording about the different backgrounds and the diversity that a lot of teams already have. And the diversity is great, but are we really being inclusive? And I don’t think we are, unless we get to this point, which you brought to our attention, which is connecting through curiosity.

Perry Holley:    I’ve learned something recently, what is curiosity? And then someone asked, “Are you asking questions or are you being curious?” Aren’t they the same thing? I mean, that really shook me a little bit as I read on. I think it was David Marquet in the Language of Leadership that spoke about this. And the question he said, “Are you asking questions to make someone prove they know something? Or are you curious so that you can learn something?”

Chris Goede:     That’s good.

Perry Holley:    I might have to back that up and hear that again.

Chris Goede:     That’s really good. Say that one more time.

Perry Holley:    Because I’m a coach and I’m thinking this all the time, “Now, am I asking you questions just so I can hear that if you know it, or am I actually curious saying, I’m trying to learn it?”

Chris Goede:     Yeah. That’s good.

Perry Holley:    I want to learn something new. So when you have that mindset of I’m being curious, that I’m asking is a different type of question that you’re asking.

Chris Goede:     That’s good.

Perry Holley:    All right. Number three, effort on helping you connect is that it takes intentional effort to connect with others. We can become consumed with our own world and what we have going on, and we’re all busy. We totally ignore the need to connect with others on the team. So am I really willing to put in the effort?

Chris Goede:     I love that you used the word intentional. That’s big for us here inside our organization. It takes intentionality to have the effort. And here’s what I’ll tell you. What’s that statement? The road to is paved with good intentions, right. So we have to be intentional about it. And sometimes mentally, we may say, “Man, I want to be intentional. I want to do that.” And so I want to free you up right now and I want to tell you, it’s okay to be structured behind your intentionality. Meaning whatever is that keeps you on point, whether it’s a calendar, whether it’s reminders, there are things that I want to encourage you to put in place in order for you to be intentional about the effort that you are showing to connect with your people. I have to do that. And I think the more plates you begin to spend with people, the more structured you need to be behind that.

And so I just want to encourage you be intentional, be structured about the intentionality that you want to have. Number four trustworthiness. Do we need to say anything else? Like I got to pause. I was thinking about it and I think you got to be consistent, which is a word that I love in regards to leadership. Someone asked me, “What was one of your biggest lessons in 2020 that you learned through the pandemic and everything?” I said, “It was that my team and those that I’ve influenced with my family needed to seek consistency out of me more than anything else.” Didn’t have to have the answers didn’t have to…

I had to be consistent with the communication and with the presence. I think this includes integrity. This includes also being competent at what you do. We talk a lot on this, about soft skills, about connecting with people. Also can’t throw the baby out with the bath water, you got to be competent. That might not be the right way to say that for all those English people out there, but you need to be competent in the skill in order to have the trust given to you.

Perry Holley:    Yeah. Let’s go back to what you were saying earlier, if I put the opposite up there would I follow that person, you’re not trustworthy doing that.

Chris Goede:     No. No.

Perry Holley:    But we talk a lot here about people are watching you all the time. All the time, people are watching you and they see your behaviors. They have to assume your motives on why you’re behaving that way. And if they don’t feel… If I don’t feel you’re worthy of my trust, it’s going to be tough for me to want to connect with you. I might do the surface thing. I might have to go to work with you, but I don’t have to really connect with you as my leader if I don’t find you trustworthy. So it is a big one.

Number five, I love this one too. This is generosity, but thinking, what does that have to do with connecting? But John, I’ve heard him say it before, give first, give often, give continuously. And this was what we talk about, having an abundance mindset versus a scarcity mindset that there’s plenty for everyone and a scarcity doesn’t really connect that well. If it’s just enough for me, I’m not going to help you. I’m not going to give to you. I’m not going to provide for you. It’s only for me that doesn’t connect well.Chris Goede:     Yeah. I want to give a little example here for you about this generosity. A lot of times people think when we say generosity, it’s dollars, right. They immediately go to financial and I think it’s much more than that. It is with your time. It’s with advice, it’s with all kinds of things, but I want to give you an example of a teammate of ours. So there’s this gentleman on our team, Chris Robinson, he’s our executive vice president over our Entrepreneur Solutions Group. And great guy, he’s always smiling, high energy, when it comes to sales the guy is as sharp as they come. And so man, we are so excited that he’s in a leadership position he’s in. And this guy is probably the most generous guy that I know in creative ways. And what I mean by that is when you say this word generosity, it’s the first thing that came to mind.

I hadn’t thought about it before we walked in here today. But I was thinking about who is it that models this that connects with me from a generosity. So I’ll share this story. My wife and I are empty nesters now. We also are getting up in age. Right. And you can see it in the way that I walk and-

Perry Holley:    I’m getting up in age.

Chris Goede:     That’s right. my elders. And so we’re looking for things to do together. And what does that look like? And I’ve had a bunch of operations and so you got to be careful what kind of activity physical… So we get invited to come and play pickleball. So pickleball is this new up and coming sport, everybody’s playing, it’s like tennis, but on a smaller court and you only have to protect a little box.

And I’m like, “I’m in. I can do that. I can’t move well, but I can move .” So Chris is an avid pickleball player. And I just learned this past week that I think to get to the pro level, it’s a level five pickle… That’s his goal and he’s on his way and he’s practicing, he’s working. But I started talking to him about this. I was like, “Yeah, we got invited to this pickleball.” He was like, “Oh man, I love pickleball. I’m…” Within three days on my doorstep, was an Amazon box… By the way Amazon can help you with generosity, was a box that had two pickleball paddles in it with a little note that says, “Man, I’m so glad you joined the game, enjoy the journey or whatever.” And I’m like-

Perry Holley:    That’s nice.

Chris Goede:     Like that connection right there with connecting with me from a leadership standpoint, I won’t forget it. I see him do it over and over and over again. So when you brought up generosity and I didn’t mean to go on this tangent right here, but I want you to understand it’s not just necessarily with giving somebody a bonus. It could be creative ways. It could be half days off. It could be things that you can control as a leader-

Perry Holley:    I love that.

Chris Goede:     … that you don’t have to necessarily go get permission for, or have the funds to do. Just get creative around that generosity and you’ll connect in ways that you would never thought you would before.

Perry Holley:    It shows you’re thinking about me, not about yourself.

Chris Goede:     That’s right. Yeah. That’s right. So the number six, I’ll jump into that. This is a huge one as well, which is listening. I do kind of keep giggling after everyone would say this because when I start off by saying, what if it was the opposite of this, right? Can you imagine having influence with people that you just didn’t listen to? No it’s not going to happen. And I think this is one of the greatest way that you can show that you value somebody and I think we can all improve in this area. Just ask my wife, Sarah, your wife, Bonnie, they’ll be more than happy to tell you we’re in the leadership space. We need some work. We hear them. We just don’t listen well. And I think you can develop the skill in several different areas.

Here’s one that I work with on some of our team members, which is stop interrupting. You’re really not listening to what’s being said, if you are interrupting them because you already have the next point that you want to be heard on. Maybe ask clarifying questions, right. What is it? Maybe even ask them to help you in certain areas. And so, as you begin to think about this becoming a better effective listener, it will help you connect with any of your team. It’s a huge skill set to develop.

Perry Holley:    I’ve found it’s helpful to consider this a practice area, to do intentional practice. I’ve just started doing it, especially, you mentioned about at home. It’s easy to just shut your brain off and think I heard it all before, but I haven’t. So I’ve been practicing intentional listening. And one of the things I have to personally for me is don’t top your story. That I’m listening and I’m listening for something that they’ve done and I’ve done more or I’ve done better, or I’ve done it more often. That’s not even part of this. And the minute I start topping your story, I’m talking. So learning to say things like, “Tell me more. What did you mean by that?” Just trying to keep them talking and me intentionally practicing the listening.

I was traveling this past week. We did a class for a customer of ours and I was just in the airport for the first time in awhile just talking and really trying to listen, put my phone away, doing intentional acts to not be distracted, to not make it about me, to give you the most valuable gift I have, which is my attention and my time. And it’s the number one way that people feel value.

Chris Goede:     So one of the things I was thinking about when you said, “Don’t top their story”, I think people oftentimes make a mistake and they think they’re connecting with you by telling you a better story or telling you their story in regards to that, when at times you don’t need to share that story to connect with them. I think there’s even more power in connecting with them in doing what you talked about, which was, “Tell me more, unpack that a little bit. Why did that happen?” Like that curiosity we talked about earlier versus saying, “Man, I know exactly what you were talking about. Let me tell you about this story.” And I think that’s a natural reaction because you think, Oh, I’m relating and I’m connecting. And I would challenge you to make sure you question your motive of why you’re doing that and is it really, truly serving the individual well from a listening perspective by doing that. Because I know I naturally will do that. I listen and I listen for key words to try to connect and where they’re at and then I jump in when I should just be listening more.

Perry Holley:    Yeah. They said they went on a trip to South Atlanta and I said, “Well, I went to Paris.”

Chris Goede:     Yeah, that’s right.

Perry Holley:    It ruins the whole thing.

Chris Goede:     The whole thing.

Perry Holley:    The whole thing. Yeah.

Chris Goede:     Okay. Well, I mean, thanks for blowing-

Perry Holley:    Number seven, we’ll wrap this up, but encouragement a way to connect with other people. And I’ve heard John say, this is the oxygen for the soul. Never, ever underestimate the value of reminding people that you believe in them. I often say it as just be the CEO of your team, the chief encouragement officer and you find… I mean, everybody wants to be encouraged. Everybody needs to be encouraged. And when you do that, it opens that door that I want to be near you because every time I’m around you, I feel like you value me that you believe in me and that I’m needed. And I just love that. I hate that we left it at number seven, but it’s big.

Chris Goede:     It is. Well, let me wrap up for us as we kind of draw this series to a close around mind shift. I love this because these seven principles that you brought to us, they’re very applicable. I want you to take them out, you listen to them, evaluate yourself on them. And what I really love about the last one that you’re talking about is when you encourage others you’re promoting a spirit of approval versus the spirit of criticism. And we talk a lot with organizations about increasing their engagement levels and you’ve heard Perry and I both share the story about rowing in the boat. And the numbers are still at 34%, which doesn’t excite me, but excites me. It means there’s a lot of opportunities out there for us to help teams increase that engagement level.

And so whether you’re directing or you’re connecting, I love this, you’re building a bridge to your people. And this is something that Perry brought to the notes right here that directing bridge tends to be one way. The connecting bridge, that tends to be two ways. And I just want you to understand that when you’re trying to connect with people, it’s not a one-way bridge, right. It’s going to be the two ways.

And so I found that the two way bridge offers more in the way of increasing my influence with the team and those that I’m around and increasing the engagement level of those that are on my team and inside my organization. And so as you continue to think about the culture of which you work and your organization and your leadership, I want you to think about these seven principles and just go through and ask yourself your questions. It’s like, “How am I at this?” And then maybe even ask yourself the question, “Do I represent the opposite of this?” Right. Back to how we started. So man, Perry, I really appreciate that. Appreciate bringing the seven. It added value to me and I’m sure our listeners as well.

Perry Holley:    Great stuff, Chris. Thank you. And please go to if you’d like to learn more about the five levels, 360, any of the virtual workshops we’re doing right now. We’re also glad to hear from you there a comment or a question, or as Chris said, if there’s a topic you’d like to hear about, we’re always open to that. We’re always grateful that you would spend this time with us. That’s all today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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