The higher the technology in our world, the higher the human touch needed. The most sought-after leaders today are, by nature, connective. They become the glue that holds diverse people together around strong sweet spots of shared interest where each person knows why they are involved and what they bring to the table. Looking back on our lives, these experiences will be some of the most memorable.
Here are three traits of connective leaders at work, recognizing that, as Mark Sanborn proves, “you don’t need a title to be a leader.”
1. Actively Involve Others in Seeking Solutions and Prove You Care About What They Say
Some bosses pay lip service to seeking input yet don’t follow up on what they hear but rather repeat their own ideas. You don’t have to always agree but be candid and visibly committed to the conversation. Even introverts who are trained as engineers like Trae Vassallo, the general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, value others’ input: “Great ideas are not solitary things. Feedback from other people is the best catalyst.” As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. once wrote, “Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than in the one where they sprung up.”
2. Cite a Strong Talent in Each Person on Your Team
When I was a Wall Street Journal reporter, my bureau chief bluntly told me one day that I took too long when interviewing some people, and sometimes that was a good thing. I got insights about the interviewees’ views on other topics. He told me that, when I finished writing the story I was assigned, I should write notes on those other opinions I heard. Then, in future stories, I might see where one of those interviewees had an unexpected yet relevant angle and quote them. In effect, he showed me a talent I did not know I had — I saw patterns between apparently unrelated things. It was life-changing. (He was also direct in describing my shortcomings and ultimately became a sponsor.) Consequently I got into the habit of telling others when I saw them demonstrate a talent that may be hidden to them.
Plus it is powerfully satisfying to vividly, specifically praise others when they shine a spotlight on individuals who are showing their strengths. In so doing, connective leaders contagiously create close bonds and model connective behavior wherever they go. Such an approach embodies the sentiment Rosabeth Moss Kanter advocates for leading: “I stand behind you. My job is to make yours successful.”
3. When They Make a Mistake Enable Them to Save Face and Self-Correct
Jennifer successfully completed a project that was vital to the division you supervise yet left colleagues in the lurch on other projects — without telling them. You have an opportunity to offer a vital team values lesson. Act as if she understood she’d made a mistake. Meet with her privately and say, “I appreciate your great work on that project. And, I know you feel badly that your colleagues didn’t learn, in time, that they would need to rapidly make adjustments to get the other projects completed. In our next meeting, how do want to explain to them, how you will do things different in similar situations in the future? You have strong talents and I want to fully back you in gaining their support.”
Hint: As a connective leader, demonstrating that being a strong team player is as important as being a rising star — and acting as if that is also their intention – enables you to sidestep criticizing them while making it crystal clear that they get to acknowledge their mistake to their peers who were most affected, and say how it will not happen again.