One of the bright spots for me of this life-changing era we’re all living through is the stories of human connection that I hear from the executives I speak with every week. Again and again, they share moments or emails that demonstrate how tough times can bring out the best in leaders and their teams. I’m struck by how the moments that matter most are the ones in which leaders share themselves as human beings and encourage their team members to do the same.
A few weeks into the work from home period, a senior executive client of mine shared an email he sent to his team that came from his heart. Even though it had only been a week or so away from the office at that point, he wrote that he had realized something, “I miss you.” He talked about the importance of staying connected with each other during this period of virtual meetings and closed with, “Hang in there. These times will pass and brighter days are ahead. Hug your loved ones. Take care of your families. We will have much to catch up on when we all return to the office.” While it wasn’t his intention in sending it out, he was flooded with replies, many of which said that his email had made the recipient shed a few tears of gratitude that they worked for a company where people matter so much.
The next level of connection comes when leaders don’t just share their own lives, they encourage their team to share with each other in fun and non-threatening ways. My favorite story on this front came from a CEO client of mine. His top leadership team of seven or eight people has been doing 60-minute day setter Zoom videos with a few times a week during the work from home period. A couple of Wednesdays ago, he asked his assistant to invite all the direct reports to the senior team to the Friday Zoom. She expressed concern that the broader group members wouldn’t have time to prepare for the meeting and my client said that no prep was necessary; it was just an opportunity to visit and that people who had pets should bring them to the Zoom. So, on Friday, a lot of folks introduced their cats and dogs to each other. The CEO noticed that one dog was sacked out on the couch in the background and asked the dog’s mom if everything was OK there. His mom/VP laughed and said, “Yeah, he’s fine. Watch this trick.” Then she said in a little louder voice, “OK, time to go to work,” and the dog immediately sat up and started HOWLING. I still laugh every time I think of that story and I imagine everyone on that extended leadership team does too.
My observation is that leaders are connecting at a personal level during the pandemic in ways that they never have before. Why is that? I think it’s because this situation has compelled all of us to shift down a bit on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. A crisis like this makes everyone less concerned with the self-actualization and esteem at the top of the pyramid and more focused on the basic needs for safety and love and belonging. The best leaders I know are instinctively tuned into this shift and are not afraid to authentically share themselves in response. Connection with our own humanity and other human beings is what’s going to get us through this challenge. If you’re a leader, please share yourself in ways that give people a little more insight into you as the whole person then take it further by creating opportunities for your team to share themselves. Little sparks of gratitude and laughter now will keep you all connected in deeper ways later.
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