Early in my career, I had an opportunity to work for someone who took deep and genuine interest in me. I started working for Ron when I was just 23 years old, three years out of college and still figuring things out. By building a trusting, dependable and honest relationship with me from the start, he became much more than a manager. Ron was a mentor who helped me navigate the corporate world but who was also able to find the window to who I was in both my mind and my heart. When I say he found the window, I mean he knew me so well that he could understand how the world around me was impacting me.
Through our many hours of conversation over ten years working together, Ron was able to learn more about me and how I engage life, leadership, emotions, and pressure than anyone else. He was never invasive in learning about me. I would describe him as being available at all times to work with, unpack thoughts, have fun, and just walk alongside me. Ron’s leadership stretched to all aspects of my life—from business mentorship and training to personal relationships. Our friendship grew and he was a big part of life events such as my wedding, kids’ births, promotions, and losses. To this day, we stay in touch by text, email, phone calls, and see each other occasionally. Our time together always seems too short, but I am thankful for it.
My relationship with Ron has transformed my entire life. He helped me believe that I was capable of so much more, that I have what it takes—and that what I have is enough. He also taught me to be a better leader and how to build better relationships. I admire him so much, and love him deeply. How many people can say that about a former supervisor? How many people would like for their team to feel the same way about them?
FIND THE WINDOWS TO YOUR TEAM MEMBERS’ HEARTS
In many ways, being a leader is all about finding windows to your team members’ hearts. Once that window is found, a good leader is able to gently and humbly step in to affirm, build up, encourage, and tend to team members. Here are a few things to consider that may help you have an everlasting impact on the people you are most connected with as a leader:
Do life together. Leadership is about relationships. Engage your team members in everyday life activities, like taking a walk, participating in service projects or even attending sports activities together. Rooting on a team member’s child in a big game is one way to build trust and show your commitment to the relationship.
Learn together. Take a class together and evaluate new information as learning partners. The class could be industry specific, or it could be completely unrelated—try a cooking class or explore a mutual interest in a new language.
Engage in accountability not related to work. Help one another spend some time on meaningful things outside of work, even if it’s just reminding each other to take breaks. Coach each other through work-life balancing challenges and other areas of life that may require specific accountability and encouragement.
Have fun together. Instead of meeting for breakfast or lunch, go bowling, fly fishing, or a pick up a game of basketball.
Allow time to experience great joy or sadness together. Attend a funeral or a graduation together, help each other celebrate the highs and support each other personally during the lows.
Engage in trust-building interactions. Strong relationships are built on trust. During trust-building activities, make sure you:
- Share credit about wins generously
- Are timely
- Are okay with being wrong
- Are direct and honest about your challenges, and look for win-win outcomes together.
Sustainable success in all things requires thought, planning, and preparation, and then more thought, planning, and preparation. Meaningful relationships, especially at work, are no different. Take time to plan, and commit your plan to writing if you have to.
At the heart authentic leadership is the desire to make a lasting impact on other leaders; this is our calling, and a most worthy path to lead. I believe that Ron was motivated by that desire with me. In the end, the most important lesson he taught me is how to nurture and foster relationships with my own team members, or how to find and embrace the windows to their hearts.