Leadership is influence, and one of the main ways we influence people is through communication. The most effective leaders are excellent communicators. According to the Harvard Business Review:
“The number one criteria for advancement and promotion for professionals is an ability to communicate effectively.” US President Gerald Ford once remarked: “If I went back to college again, I’d concentrate on two areas: learning to write and to speak before an audience. Nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate effectively.”
US presidential historian Robert Dallek identified five qualities of successful presidents that enables them to achieve what others can’t: Vision — they are clear about where they are going; Pragmatism — they have a practical approach; Consensus Building — they are able to persuade others to follow; Charisma — they connect with others on a personal level; Trustworthiness — they do what they said they would do. Four of these five traits involve the ability to connect.
Leadership is essentially about relationships. Leaders achieve results with, through and for other people. If you have a good idea but can’t convince anyone of its merit, you won’t be able to take your idea very far. If you create a ground-breaking strategy for your organisation but can’t get buy-in from the team, your new strategy will be totally ineffective. A person’s ability to create change and achieve results is directly related to their ability to connect with others.
In ‘Every one Communicates, Few Connect’, leadership author Dr John Maxwell writes: “Connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence with them. And the ability to communicate and connect with others is a major determining factor in reaching your potential. To be successful, you must work with others. To do that at your absolute best, you must learn to connect.”
Connecting starts with our attitude. We have to recognise the value of people. We have to believe people are important. Jim Collins, author of ‘Good to Great’, observes: “Those who build great companies understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any great company is not markets, or technology, or competition, or products. It is the one thing above all others — the ability to get and keep enough of the right people.” Great leaders connect with great people to build great companies.
Dr Maxwell highlights three questions people are asking that leaders need to answer in order to connect.
Question 1: Do you care for me? It’s often said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. Especially these days when leaders seem to be increasingly preoccupied with their own self-serving agenda, people are understandably sceptical that leaders actually have their well-being at heart. Whenever leaders show genuine concern for others, they open the door to genuine connection.
Question 2: Can you help me? In any interaction people are silently asking, “What’s in it for me?” Leading corporate presentation coach Jerry Weissman calls it WIFFY – What’s In It For You. The WIIFY is the audience benefit. In his book, ‘Presenting to Win’, Weissman advises that in any presentation, before you make any statement about yourself, your company, or the products and services you offer, ask yourself, “What’s the WIIFY? What benefit does this offer my listener?”
Weissman points out that people focus too much on the features of their products and services instead of answering the question, ‘Can you help me?’ The key is to focus on benefits, not features. In today’s world where people are constantly bombarded with information, they tend to tune out. If you want to capture their attention, you have to show you can help.
Question 3: Can I trust you? Trust is the foundation of all meaningful relationships and is vital for leadership. If you want to connect with others you have to build trust. You do this by always keeping your word and following through on what you said you would do. Consistently delivering excellent quality and doing more than expected is a sure way to build relational capital.
So, what practical steps can you take to connect with people? You start by finding common ground. Maxwell says leaders can actively set out to find common ground with others by making intentional choices in eight areas of their lives every day.
Choice 1: Availability, “I will choose to spend time with others.”
Choice 2: Listening, “I will listen my way to common ground.”
Choice 3: Questions, “I will use the acronym FORM to ask people questions about their Family, Occupation, Recreation and Message.”
Choice 4: Thoughtfulness, “I will think of others and look for ways to thank them.”
Choice 5: Openness, “I will let people into my life.”
Choice 6: Likability, “I will care about people.”
Choice 7: Humility, “I will think of myself less so I can think of others more.”
Choice 8: Adaptability, “I will move from my world to theirs.”
Connecting is all about focusing on others. Maxwell states: “Leaders understand the day they take up the mantle of leadership they give up the right to think of themselves first. Leaders understand the day they become leaders, they no longer live for themselves. Leadership is servanthood. There is nothing worse in this world than an insecure leader who somehow thinks the world should worship him.”