If you’ve ever struggled as a leader with how to meaningfully connect with your team members while staying focused on achieving your organization’s goals, you’re not alone. The generative tension that exists between demonstrating care and concern for others and getting important things done is real. Yet, cultivating the capacity to build meaningful connections while accomplishing the results that matter most is more important than ever.
A recent Gartner study describes how “emotional proximity” or connectedness between coworkers – feeling seen, valued, and supported – increases employees’ connectedness to their workplace culture by 27%, improves performance by 37%, and reduces turnover by 36%.
As leaders, making time to create this emotional proximity through meaningful connection is up to us. To begin, we must first ask ourselves three crucial questions:
- When you think about your connection to your team or direct reports, what “emotional proximity” score would you give yourself?
- What habits do you utilize to support your team in feeling seen, valued, and supported?
- How might your organization be more successful if stronger connections were evident throughout your organization?
Many leaders mistakenly believe they are connecting when they engage in productivity check-ins while conducting one-on-one meetings with their direct reports. But these meetings are limited because ultimately, these discussions boil down to a conversation about “What have you accomplished and where are we against our goals?”
While these check-ins are necessary and should continue, they don’t create the conditions necessary to form the meaningful connections many employees seek—and frequently change jobs for.
A productivity check-in doesn’t always allow a leader to demonstrate care and connection. Instead, it can sometimes leave a team member feeling like their boss is solely on a quest for information and an update on tasks that need to be accomplished.
While we need to maintain a pulse on the tasks for which we and our department are responsible, meaningful connection goes beyond asking about what someone is doing—and involves engaging in a conversation about their inward state of being.
Both productivity check-ins and connection conversations are needed. Creating more time and space for meaningful connections builds relationship capital and strengthens trust, which will simultaneously boost engagement and productivity.
Whether virtually or in person, genuinely connecting requires us to slow down, ask thoughtful questions, and be attuned to others.
As I’m coaching leaders, I offer these questions that are intended to spark engaging conversations that will cultivate meaningful connections with their direct reports.
- What matters most to you these days?
- What’s giving you energy or draining your energy?
- In what ways can I or others better support and advocate for you?
- What would you like me to know about the values that are most important to you?
When leaders ask these kinds of questions – while staying curious, listening deeply, and remaining open to the perspectives they hear – connection naturally occurs. Additionally, these conversations give leaders the opportunity to acknowledge and normalize any emotions that are present which builds psychological safety. This requires us to put our task agenda aside for a few moments and instead set an intention to connect by understanding what matters most to our people and showing care and concern about how they’re feeling.
As I conduct routine check-ins with my team members who support me and my business, I’ve made it a point to put myself on their team. How is that accomplished? I facilitate conversations that are less about what I need from them and more about what I can do to provide what they need to succeed. In other words, I’m being a champion for their success. Consistently engaging in this way has built trusting relationships that have weathered many storms and generated ongoing collective success.
For the hyper-achievers (like me) reading this, it’s important to note that connection conversations don’t replace productivity check-ins. Instead, they’re used in addition to the ongoing discussions regarding where we stand against goals and deadlines. I often remind my clients that connection never replaces commitment to responsibility; it magnifies it.
As I’ve practiced this myself and encouraged my clients to do the same, I’ve witnessed firsthand how cultivating connection strengthens trust, builds relationship capital, and creates co-responsibility for success.