One of my favorite John Maxwell quotes is, “Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand.”

Applying that mindset and belief has impacted my leadership. Prior to grasping and living out this mindset, I felt I was the leader (boss), and If they needed something, they knew how to find me.

For me, this becomes even more apparent for my high performers. After all, how in the world could I help increase their performance? I thought that if I walked around and said hi and asked them, “How is it going?” I was connecting with them; I reached out to them. That type of leadership is what I call the “check the box” style. I made sure I said hi and let them know I was there. Indeed, that leadership style is not what Maxwell was referring to when touching a heart.

I have found that you can only touch a heart by being up close and personal. Group meetings are okay, but not for a deep connection. Our people want to be seen, heard, valued, and understood as individuals.

Now you may be thinking, Bob, OK, I hear you, but you can’t touch everybody that way. I have too many. I understand that. However, you can connect more deeply with some of them. I used to think I should spend more time with the underperformers, give them my brilliance, and turn them around. Guess what? It usually doesn’t work.

Further, there are better uses of my time. The best rate of return is with the high achievers. Invest time with them for a higher return. Listen to them. Ask what additional resources they may need and what challenges and issues they face. Indeed, you may not be able to help them with their day-to-day
functions. But you can be an ear for them and support them in their needs to grow and improve.

Here is an example from a workshop I conducted several months ago on connecting in this manner. During one of our breaks, a participant asked me how she could connect deeply with all 14 of her direct reports. I asked her what she was doing currently. She was a poster child for the “check the box” leadership style. She realized that was not very effective and was not sure who she should spend time with or what precisely to do. I asked a few more questions and decided on a teaching moment.

I told her the Mars Group story. I asked her if she were summoned to go to Mars and build her division on Mars from scratch, with no communication to Earth, who are 4 or 5 people she would take? She thought for a minute. She identified them in her mind. My next response was that is who you INVEST time with. You will get a better return. They are already promising. They could get better with more attention. I further pointed out the importance of regular one-to-one time with each. A set focused time on their business.

At the next workshop, three months later, she gave a glowing report to the entire group on the success of her one-on-ones. She explained how much she learned about the people. Some of whom have been with her for a few years. She discovered there were some opportunities for her to provide additional
support. She listened, she learned and responded accordingly.

John Maxwell is right—touch the heart first; that is the connection and the leadership.