How Great Leaders Connect With People They Don’t Like

With some people, connections come easy. Maybe you have a similar background, shared hobbies or a mutual friend. With others, however, you may not have much in common, which can make it harder to connect. If leaders aren’t careful, this can also make these individuals harder to lead.

However, research by Max Nathan and Neil Lee showed that diverse teams help companies be more successful. More often than not, this means that you will end up hiring employees with whom you share little in common but fill an important skill deficient area. 

One of the proven leadership principles from my research for Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success is:

Without Strong Relationships, You Can’t Lead

Since having strong relationships is a key to successful leadership, it’s important you cultivate great relationships with these individuals that aren’t exactly like you. It may not seem like you have much in common at first, but with a little effort, you can strengthen your relationship and get better results from these essential team members.

Find common ground through achievement.

Despite your differences, you always have one thing in common with your employees: a shared goal for achieving the best possible outcomes for your company.

In many ways, this is similar to how successful sports teams operate. You bring together players with different backgrounds, who all play different roles on the team. Yet, they have the same end goal: winning. As coaches and teammates work together toward these common goals and celebrate their achievements, they build trust and unity.

In a business setting, you have the responsibility of helping to set and communicate goals with your people. When you mutually agree on a common goal it creates a commonality to help you work better together. This helps everyone become more fully invested in the team, regardless of how much they share in common.

Spend double the amount of one-on-one time with these employees.

One-on-one time with your employees is crucial for building a successful team and building stronger bonds. Too often leaders gravitate towards spending time with people they like or have the most in common with instead of spending time with people they should spend time with.

As Jeff Butler, a keynote speaker and workforce consultant for the likes of household brands like TEDx, Google, Amazon and Wells Fargo, writes, “When I survey crowds across various industries, usually 30 percent of attendees have consistent one-on-one meetings … One-on-one meetings are an unequivocal way to foster employee engagement and increase employee retention.”

In fact, research from Gallup indicates that employees who have regular meetings with their managers are “three times as likely to be engaged” as those who don’t have this face-to-face time.

These meetings aren’t just a chance to evaluate performance or go over an employee’s goals. They also provide a valuable opportunity to get to know an employee better. This one-on-one time helps an employee feel valued and allows you to gain new insights into their personality and interests. Who knows, you just might find that you share something in common after all.

Practice empathy.

Empathy is a crucial leadership trait that allows you to better understand the unique feelings and perspectives of those you lead. When practiced properly, empathy allows you to connect with employees of all stripes and earn their respect, which in turn will improve workplace satisfaction, foster collaboration and even increase productivity.

I define empathy for our students as, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and acting differently because of it. The only way for you to practice this on an ongoing basis is by being a phenomenal listener.  

If listening isn’t your strong suit, try anchoring yourself in every conversation by eliminating distractions and being fully present. As you get better at anchoring yourself, it will allow you to show the other person you are listening by changing your behavior based on what they say. 

The best leaders understand the value of building strong relationships with everyone in their company — even those with whom they have little in common. While strengthening these bonds may require some additional effort, it will make all the difference in creating a work environment where everyone feels valued and motivated to give their best effort.

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company which exists to turn professionals into leaders and create healthier places to work. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the author the upcoming book Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Successand host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.