Every leader needs a capable team if they are to deliver the results expected of them. The individuals who make up that team need to be working together towards the same goals, and the leader is there to make the co-operation gel and be as productive as possible.

To build effective relationships, it is vital to interact often. Without regular conversations, a leader will find it hard to appreciate the value of those in their team – to truly get to know them. Conversely, making space for two-way interactions enables a leader to demonstrate their genuine interest in their people, building greater trust through the openness between them.

So, it’s clear that these relationships require regular interaction. In most cases, a leader needs to be the instigator and prompt these and be open when others want to talk to them.

(Some leaders complain that they don’t have time to fritter away having cosy chats with anyone, such are the demands on their time. Which I would (and frequently do) debate with clients, but that is for another article, where we could discuss what their fundamental leadership role is and why they aren’t spending more time there!)

When you lead a team, the easiest way to create relationships is by being curious. As Dale Carnegie observed in ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’, people like to feel important and to do this, especially in the relationship that exists between a leader and employee, the leader needs to create opportunities for casual conversation and be curious about their people.

In the workplace, curious questions will often be about work itself. With an open, interested and trusted leader, conversations can easily become broader, and their people can be encouraged to share more of themselves, safe in the knowledge that such openness is a natural part of their relationship with their particular boss.

The best leaders show an interest in the whole person, appreciating the things that are important to them (which is not only work!), by ensuring the space for a broader conversation is encouraged. When the team member feels that space is safe and their leader is interested, they will share and feel valued in the process, with an outcome of a mutually trusting relationship.

Six Simple Steps to Being ‘In the Conversation’.

  1. Make space for conversations to happen. By being fully available to team members, good leaders encourage openness. This means downing tools and distractions and fully listening. By valuing what people talk about, good leaders show they view the individual as a person and not just an employee.
  2. Listen, more than talk. When you show you value someone by paying full attention as you listen, they will not only feel valued and important, they will trust you even more, encouraging openness both about themselves and work issues too. Remember, this is about giving them an open space to talk. It should be less about the leader, though of course, mutual interests reinforce the relationship even more!
  3. Be more curious. Ask for even more. Either during general conversations or pro-actively asking about their important topics, activities and world they live in, the relationship builds. Asking a second (follow-up) question and being more deeply curious about what they have said to you shows you are interested. Seeking greater depth about a passion of the individual goes the extra mile into showing how much you truly are interested in them as an individual too. It is essential to be authentic about this, of course.
  4. Be confidential. When curiosity prompts openness in individuals, they may give it with caution. Sometimes people do not want to share about themselves, so it’s vital to keep confidences when they do.
  5. Keep it simple. Being ‘in the conversation’ with your people is a critical leadership skill. Yet, it works best in those casual coffee-machine chats (we once had!) where the relationship is informal – as close to two friends passing the time of day as you can get! In the Zoom world, this can be a bit more challenging – and it is still doable with a bit of attention!
  6. Be Sensitive. Some people don’t want to be very open. They value their privacy. Some cultures are much less likely to get personal. And this is fine – honour that fully. Pick opportunities that will be easy, and remember, none of this is to their detriment. It is simply mutual relationship building, and just getting on together better as humans.

Proactively creating conversations has a much wider value in all our lives, and you can never tell where a curious question of, well, almost anyone you meet, might lead. I have numerous experiences of the unexpected happen when I got in a conversation with someone, even walking in the street, at an airline check-in desk or with an employee who had a dream.

You simply never know.

But the reality is clear, if you are not ‘in the conversation’, nothing will come of it. If you take the time to open up conversations with people, you never know what might happen, and in the workplace – as a leader – you might be surprised at what you find out and how your relationships with your people truly blossom.

© Martin Haworth 2021

Martin Haworth

I’m Martin Haworth and I’m a coach and trainer from Gloucester, England. I work with clients to help them maximise their leadership skills, in their personal development and to take action in their careers to achieve the futures they want. Since 2001 I’ve been coaching people from all over the world, as well as training groups of leaders, developing their skills to make them even more effective. I came into coaching from a career leading teams large and small for over 25 years, as well as delivering organisational change programs and in HR management too. These experiences gave me great insights into the challenges leaders face and I’m delighted to share some of the lessons I’ve learnt along the way. When I work with individuals, my goal is to enable them to make progress in their lives and work. To do this, we engage in conversations where I give them the space to talk – and by listening carefully, I help them find solutions to challenges they are facing. The conversations we have are a fun collaboration, in a safe and confidential space. The outcome is a result of the partnership we have together, to help them make really valuable progress.

Martin Haworth, Leadership, Personal Development and Business Coach