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"I just joined this organization and have been trying to get to know everyone. But my team is very, very set in their ways. Some have been here over 20 years. And they seem suspicious of me as a newcomer. How can I build good relationships and still reach our goals for the next year, some of which are very aggressive?"
Of course they're suspicious. You represent change, and that's tough to take after 20 years.
This, however, is an important moment for you in determining whether you will be able to break through their suspicion and reach those goals. If there's anything that's key for leaders, it's building those relationships, says Kristi Hedges, a consultant and author of a new book, "The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others."
In an interview, she pointed to a recent study conducted by Right Management with Chally Group Worldwide, called "Why Global Leaders Succeed and Fail," which looked at a number of success factors for leadership.
The study, which collected data in a survey of more than 1,400 CEOs and human resources professionals from more than 700 organizations, showed that "failure to build relationships and a team environment" was the leading factor that contributed to the failure of senior leaders. That was followed closely by "the mismatch for the corporate culture," and "failure to deliver acceptable results."
She suggests that you do a "discovery lunch" with every person on your team. It would involve discussing what each person is trying to accomplish and where he or she sees the challenges ahead. "Have a very open conversation, and get a sense of where they're coming from," Hedges says.
If you can be empathic and at the same time help people take a step toward their next goal, then you will begin to build a trusting relationship. "In creating authentic connections, trust and empathy go hand in hand," she writes. "If we don't feel that someone understands us, we are unlikely to forge a strong bond."
That empathy is one component, she says, of building "presence," the ability to connect with and inspire people around you.
Some leaders and managers will certainly snicker or even scoff at the thought of "empathic leadership," and Hedges acknowledges that the phrase "evokes images of group hugs, shared tears and endless team-building sessions."
But she argues that you can be empathic in many ways and still make the good connections you need to engage and influence people. In her book, Hedges outlines several different styles of empathic leadership in an effort to help managers develop awareness of their own styles. They include:
The coach. This leader "shows empathy through a mixture of tough love and strong support." The coach knows what is going on in the staff member's life and isn't afraid to discuss it in relation to performance or to push that person toward higher levels of achievement.
The mentor. This leader makes people feel as if their success is always a top priority. Mentors help people by being available to talk through ideas and give feedback. "Because they have done well, they operate from a point of helping others do the same," Hedges says.
The truth teller. This leader believes in treating employees as adults and free agents. "The truth teller doesn't sugarcoat as a matter of principle and can be counted on to let people know what they are doing well and where they can improve," Hedges writes.
The buddy. This leader wants to be a colleague. "He's someone who stays in the trenches to keep a bead on the team, operating from the idea that 'we're all in it together.'"
The relater. This leader has an intuitive ability to understand others' emotions. "Whether from personal experience or keen observational skills, relaters tap into the hopes and fears of those around them and relate what they see to their own experience," Hedges says.
Chances are that your leadership style is a blend of one or more of these types, she says. "The best way to incorporate-and sustain-an empathic leadership style is to do it in a way that's authentic to you," Hedges says. "You don't have to fit into the touchy-feely mold. ... There's wide latitude here."
As you have these discussions with your team, you can use your style as a component of emotional intelligence to help inspire your people in their efforts to set new goals. You want to align your staff's individual goals with the goals of the team and the organization, she says. "And that's where influence comes into play."
So you can take all the data you've gathered from these conversations and use it to begin developing a new vision and a plan. But that's a process your team will manage. "You need to view your role differently. It's not to inform, but to inspire people," Hedges says.
Managers at Work is a bimonthly column exploring the issues and challenges facing managers. Contact Kathleen Driscoll with questions or comments by phone at (585) 249-9295 or by email at email@example.com/23/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.