Written by: Mark Koulianos // May 29, 2020
Last updated: May 29, 2020
Not long after our office began working exclusively from home 11 weeks ago, we initiated a weekly “coffee” video chat for the purpose of connecting socially with one another. The only hard-and-fast rule of the meeting is no one is allowed to talk shop. For example, we’ve described our first cars, named favorite vacation spots, and exchanged Netflix suggestions. It’s also been an opportunity to share our experiences, both positive and negative, of spending so much time cloistered in our homes.
Last year, one of the entries I penned for the Essentials of Modern Leadership series was devoted to the importance of knowing your people—in other words, to have an understanding of one’s skill set, limitations, and personality in relation to their job assignment. Likewise, it should be said there is potential for lasting benefits when leaders foster connection to their people outside of professional roles. In fact, it’s a facet of my approach to leadership that has served me well.
During an early management assignment of mine with Nielsen, a major hurricane was threatening the Tampa Bay area. While our team hadn’t worked together very long, I had worked to establish a friendly rapport. Hunkered down in our homes over the next couple of days, I reached out to each co-worker by phone to ask if all was well. To a person, that communication was greatly appreciated. Those calls likely would’ve come across as awkward or, worse, insincere if we hadn’t already made personal connections.
Some leaders take a hard pass on establishing relationships with workers. This is largely, I suppose, out of fear of blurring the lines between work roles and emotional involvement. This isn’t a criticism—only an observation. But it’s not my style. Maintaining a professional relationship with co-workers shouldn’t automatically disqualify personal connection. Here’s the way I look at it: If I know my people and a bit of their story, it enables me to make better decisions based upon their circumstances.
To be sure, the “coffee” meetings have quickly become the unanimous favorite part of our team’s week. We’ve had cameo appearances from babies climbing up into their mothers’ laps. And dogs have done the same to their owners. These interactions provide valuable glimpses into our lives, reinforcing a sense of camaraderie that carries over to our collaborative work. To convey authentic interest for your people as a leader, remember to connect with them outside of the context of the workplace.