Being liked is only one element of being a connected leader

Welcome back to Leader Talk! In episode 65, we spoke to Michelle Tillis Lederman, a highly regarded business professional renowned for her expertise in communication, leadership, and networking.

As the founder and CEO of Executive Essentials, Michelle empowers individuals and organisations with effective communication tools to achieve success. Her acclaimed books, such as “The 11 Laws of Likability” and “The Connector’s Advantage,” offer practical insights on building meaningful connections.

In this chat, we spoke about how to be a connected leader.

Want to learn more? Read or listen to our chat with Michelle Tillis Lederman on YouTubeSpotify, Listen Notes, or Player FM. It’s also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.

Authored by Michelle Tillis Lederman, CEO of Executive Essentials.

Being a connected leader will offer far more benefits than simply being a well-liked leader. Being a leader is not about making everyone like you; rather it should be about fostering strong connections and prioritizing relationships within and outside of your team. Let’s explore the main strategies to become a connected leader and the role of self-awareness in building productive, lasting relationships.

Becoming a connected leader

The fact is, you can’t make everyone like you, but we are all inherently likable humans. You can enable people to see your likable traits and appreciate the likable aspects of others. This comes from seeking connection, which depends on what you do before, during and after conversations you have with others.

Connected leaders are those who embrace a relationship-first philosophy. Think about a great leader in your life who brought out the best in you and for whom you would still do a favor to this day. It could be an old sports coach, a relative, or a former or current boss. What did they do to get the most out of you? I’m willing to bet they trusted and supported you. They empowered you to make your own decisions because they believed in you, sometimes even more than you believed in yourself. These qualities led you to be more productive, engaged and loyal to that leader. If you want the same out of your employees, taking on these traits is essential.

As leaders, we often struggle with disengagement, which leads to high turnover and high costs. Disengaged employees cost the world a staggering $7.8 trillion in lost productivity. So, if you want to improve your bottom line, you have to prioritize your people and create an environment where they feel connected to the organization, the team, and their work.

Studies show, three key factors contribute to employee satisfaction: being kept in the loop and knowing how their work contributes to the mission, an understanding attitude from the boss, and appreciation and recognition for their work. There are really only two things you need to do to achieve those three factors and be a connected leader. First, show your team you care about them as people, and second, demonstrate an interest in the things they care about.

We are all both leaders and followers. If you find yourself complaining about something a boss is doing, take a moment to self-reflect and consider if you exhibit similar behaviors. Look to leaders who have brought out the best in you and adopt their positive attributes.

Building self-awareness as a leader

The first mindset of a connector is to be open and accepting, which includes being accepting of ourselves and our unique charms. Leaders need to embrace their unique qualities and strengths, while also acknowledging when these qualities may be working against them. Self-acceptance entails acknowledging when temporary adjustments are needed to increase your effectiveness in interactions with specific individuals.

For example, I’ll be the first to say I talk a lot. I don’t like silence, so I fill up the space in the conversation. At the same time, I now realize when I need to pause, talk second not first, and be mindful of social cues that I’m talking too much. The goal is not to change your authentic self but to flex your style to enable a stronger connection. Imperfection is part of authenticity, and rather than striving for perfection, we should focus on being true to ourselves in a way that also fosters connection.

Contrary to popular belief, some of the best connectors I know are introverts. Being socially curious doesn’t mean being the life of the party or carrying every conversation. It’s about genuinely connecting and showing curiosity about the other person. True connection goes beyond discussing work; it involves exploring common causes, values, experiences, people, places, goals, and interests. Curiosity is akin to being a detective, searching for connections and commonalities.

Creating productive relationships

You don’t have to like everyone and it is not your job to make everyone happy. It is, however, in your best interest to figure out how to work effectively with them. Many of us naturally tend to gravitate to those who like us and who are similar to us, but this can lead to an echo chamber, confirmation bias, and narrow views and solutions. As leaders, even when we realize we’re not connecting with someone on a personal level, it’s crucial to stay open and strive to appreciate the differences. Slow down your thinking and stay in a place of curiosity versus jumping to conclusions. That small shift will foster a working relationship with someone you do not naturally gravitate towards.

There are going to be people whom you enjoy being around more. There are also going to be those with whom you work more effectively, even if you don’t enjoy their company. One of the best collaboration partners you can have is someone who has an opposite style to you. Appreciating your differences is a powerful technique to establish effective connections.

You could be a planner, and they’re spontaneous. You’re risk-averse while they’re a risk-taker. Instead of assuming you two are going to clash, it is useful to reframe it as a collaboration that brings a diversity of thought to the solution. It’s not necessary to like someone personally, but we can still appreciate the unique perspectives they bring.

Appreciation and recognition play a significant role in job satisfaction, including acknowledging someone’s contributions, approach, work ethic, or solution. Show you value and respect your differences and find ways to work together. It will enhance your productivity and your relationships. Remember, your goal is not to be best friends with everyone; rather, you need to find ways to collaborate and work together effectively. Understand your unique selling proposition, and see others not as competition but as potential referral partners, collaborators, or strategic alliances.

Seeking self-awareness

Leaders often have blind spots, and these blind spots can vary among individuals. For example, some leaders may think they are being supportive by offering frequent help, but in reality, they may be micromanaging. Others might believe they are accommodating others by remaining silent, when speaking up would be more beneficial. Gaining self-awareness is crucial in uncovering these blind spots.

Conducting a 360-degree feedback assessment where a coach interviews your boss, peers and employees can be helpful. They cull the data and pull out the trends to uncover your strengths and the areas where you can grow.  It’s crucial to get coaching support after receiving the feedback to have the support and accountability to make the changes you want to make. You can do it internally, have buddy coaches, or create a network of peer leaders. There are certainly individuals out there who share the same goal, and by finding them, you can become accountability partners for each other.

This process of introspection will lead you to understand what you’re doing wrong, and more importantly, why you’re doing it. As leaders progress in their careers, there is a transition from being individual contributors to becoming leaders, where they stop being evaluated solely by their technical skills or individual contributions. Micromanaging is an example of an unproductive trait that often stems from a desire to control and retain the hands-on work that initially brought success. As a leader, your focus should be less on the hands-on work, and more on effective communication, providing guidance, offering vision, supporting and empowering others, coaching, and creating opportunities. Leaders need to trust that their team members care and want to make an impact. You need to think about how they want to do it and not how you want to do it. Recognize that it may not be perfect and may even result in failure, but that’s how we learn and grow. More times than not, you may be surprised that they have new ideas that get the job done even better.

Leadership is a dynamic journey that requires self-awareness, adaptability, and a genuine interest in others. As leaders, we must transition from being individual contributors to empowering guides, trusting in our teams and fostering an environment where they can thrive. By prioritizing connections, we cultivate engaged and loyal employees, driving both personal and organizational success. So ask yourself, how truly connected are you to your business partners, suppliers, and clients?