When I first started working in then-Big Six consulting firm Coopers & Lybrand, the partner I was assigned to was a gentleman named Chris Abramson, and he had an enormous scale of responsibility. Yet whenever I talked with him, which was not that often, he gave me his undivided attention. He talked with me about my goals and my development opportunities. He shared stories about life (both his and mine) outside the office. Even in our short conversations, in which he frequently was directing me to do something, he injected some kind of personal remark or comment.
Chris Abramson excelled in one of the most important — and most misunderstood — of leadership skills: making an emotional connection.
Leadership has everything to do with how you relate to others and the quality and texture of those relationships. The higher up you go in an organization, the less important your technical skills become and the more your interpersonal skills matter. I’ve seen this confirmed in my work with hundreds of leaders and in reviews of 360-degree feedback data on thousands more.
The ability to make an emotional connection is so often misunderstood because it’s not about being emotional or showing emotion. It’s about making a human connection — one person to another. Chris Abramson had the ability to connect on that level with me, with teams, with an entire office of over 600 associates — to show us how important we all were to him and that there was more to our relationship than just the job at hand.
He was a natural, but there are some things the rest of us might do to forge these kinds of connections.
- Like Chris, give people your undivided attention. This sounds simple, but it’s easy to lose sight of. When I feel overloaded in the midst of ringing phones, e-mails by the hundreds, and a gazillion other things to do, I’ll sometimes think about how Chris unfailingly engaged with people in this way, and the energy he brought to and created in those interactions as a result. He made us want to do more because we didn’t want to let him down.
- Be aware that emotions are contagious. Research has shown that a person’s mood can be affected even by three degrees of separation from people they don’t even know. So imagine your impact in the workplace on those who report to you directly. Whether positive or negative, your emotional state has a significant influence on those you work with, especially when you’re the boss. We all have our bad days, but we don’t have to multiply their ill effects. If you’re feeling particularly anxious or negative, make an effort to quarantine yourself — do more of your administrative tasks, avoid situations that might trigger even more stress, take the afternoon off (you may do more harm staying on the job). On the other hand, when you’re feeling especially buoyant, make an effort to spend more time with direct reports, go to more meetings, reach out to others in the organization. Use this time to your advantage and multiply your positive emotions.
- Develop your sense of extraversion. Make no mistake, this is easier said (or written) than done, especially if you’re naturally an introvert. But if you’re a leader, you simply have to develop the ability to reach out to others, engage them in discussion, and actively provide feedback. You’re the one who has to be out in front, taking the lead in developing these relationships. Even introverts can muster the energy to do these things and relate to others. (And then, when you’re exhausted from it, you can sit quietly with a book.)
As leaders, by definition, we do our work through other people, and yet how easy it is to lose sight of that, to focus on the amount of work — the tasks, the output, the jobs to be completed. The irony is, the more you focus on the quality of those connections, the greater your quantity of output is likely to be.
Scott’s recent blog post in Harvard Business Review, Linked below: