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Intentionally Connecting

To be a leader, you must have followers. Right?

People will follow us for different reasons. Might be coercion or providing an incentive. True leadership, however, is when people follow you voluntarily because they believe in you and buy into your vision. Times and seasons change but over the years there have been men and women who have stood out as great leaders because of their ability to connect with others. John Maxwell says that connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence with them.

As a leader, you will face various challenges depending on the needs in society at that particular time. In recent years there have been many articles and comments about leading millennials. Most managers find the millennials at the workplace somewhat difficult to lead. I believe however that there are leaders who are winning at managing millennials because they have figured a way to connect with them thus increasing their influence with them. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, millennials will form 75% of the workforce by 2030. In Kenya, it is estimated that the millennials form about 45% of the workforce. If you are a leader in the workplace, you definitely want to command influence with this demographic. The sooner you do it the better because Generation Z (born in the early 2000s) are on their way to the workplace and will come probably with a different set of rules. I believe however that even then, the way to influence them will be by intentionally connecting.

Apart from leading across generations, a leader is likely to have the challenge of leading different personality types or different nationalities. How do you get different people to follow you voluntarily despite the differences?

One of the reasons that people buy into leaders is because they TRUST them. Trust is built a step at a time and I think it begins with the leader choosing to connect with the people they lead. Let’s then talk about Intentionally Connecting.

Great leaders are intentional about connecting with those they lead. People will follow you voluntarily when they know that you care. As the wise saying goes, ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’

Connecting may seem natural to some people more than others but the good news is that everyone can learn how to connect. All you need is a willing heart. There two things that are key to connecting with those that you lead.

1. Be Authentic.

Bring out the real you. No human is perfect and your followers know that so there is no need to put in extra effort to hide your weakness. Let your team know what makes you tick and what ticks you off. That way, you become predictable which means your team knows what to expect from you. In my view, that predictability will inspire trust in your followers. Doesn’t mean that they will like it – but that is okay. Trust should not be confused with likeability. Jeffrey Gitomer said, “Trust is more important than love. ” Do you agree?

2. Don’t be too busy for those you lead

Kenyans complain about the MPs (Members of Parliament) they elected who they only see after 5 years. What about you? Does your team spend time with you only when you need something from them? As a leader, you probably have a long to-do list. I would urge you to add one more item on that list – Value my people every day.

How can you value those you lead? Whatever the answer, I hope that it includes spending time with them. Consider scheduling one-on-one meetings. Every once in a while, have a conversation that does not involve work. Hint: Talk more about the other person and less about you.

Recently in my Mastermind Group, I heard a story that illustrates the true power of connecting. One of the Mastermind Group participants, we will call her Rose, told us about a time when she was working at one of the Multinationals in Nairobi. She was going through a hard time and one of her bosses approached her keen to know why she didn’t look okay. After listening, the boss encouraged her to take leave days and even offered a place where she could go to rest and get refreshed. Rose was amazed. When she came back, she had made a decision to always work extra hard to make sure that her boss looks good. Why? Because she understood that her boss cared for her well being more than what she could do for the organisation. Rose confessed that from that time henceforth, she did everything in her power to fulfil her bosses vision. According to her, “That’s the greatest boss she ever had.”

In conclusion, kindly note that connection requires a lot of energy. It can be time-consuming and will often call us out of our comfort zone but I believe it is totally worth it. Just like the case of Rose, here are the two benefits that you can expect when you put effort to intentionally connect with those you lead.

1. People go the extra mile
2. People Express themselves readily.