Digital interactions due to COVID hasve enabled us to quickly get in touch with others. But are we also connected? And how does this come about?
In times of home offices, the call for tools, tips and tricks for leadership at a distance was (and still is) impossible to ignore. But who is actually calling and why? As a rule, leaders who:
- are more in contact with employees instead of being in touch with them;
- tend to work IN the system rather than AT the system, i.e. they tend to get things done rather than create them.
Those who create connections, offer context and have a shaping effect form qualitative relationships step by step. These show their value and importance not only but especially in crises - when many things seem unclear or uncertain and proven approaches no longer work. Then we turn to people whom we trust, to whom we have a connection. And not to people with whom we are merely in contact. COVID has demonstrated this to us very drastically: How many times in recent months have we heard the phrase “I now realize what and who is important to me”? What professional relationships have you cultivated from your home office? Why these and not others?
Employees who want to integrate into a company and position themselves for exciting projects, assignments or even promotions have suffered from home office restrictions. How are they supposed to achieve their ambitions if they have not yet been able to build significant relationships, or if they are just a contact and not a connection from the leaders’ perspective? There were hardly any opportunities to meet informally with colleagues and work on the quality of relationships for almost a year and a half. Of course, this was also true for leaders who clicked from one meeting to the next and hardly found time to strengthen connections. I often heard from them how efficient they were now in their projects and meetings and how surprised they were at how much time they lost under “normal conditions”. Of course, by working IN the system we often achieve a direct impact (a project moves forward, a problem is solved, a decision is made). In contrast, working WITH the system has a much more indirect effect and requires constant impulses so that a certain framework condition changes, an opportunity arises, new paths open up. It is understandable that far less is “achieved” than in strictly conducted project meetings. But while the work IN the system primarily benefits relationships, the work ON the system builds them up in the first place. And if the latter is neglected, those relationships ultimately suffer: The connections thin out.
That’s why I find it interesting to ask how you build and maintain meaningful relationships - connections rather than contacts? In short, by opening up.
Even though this sounds simple, leaders in particular often have a hard time doing this. Mostly for the following two reasons:
First, many think it’s a binary decision: I open up or I don’t. But it is possible to open up gradually: To whom and to what extent? And on which topics? Opening up doesn’t mean you don’t have a choice about what others can and can’t know about you. As long as you understand openness as something binary in the sense of “all or nothing,” you are more likely to have reservations about opening up.
Second, there is a perception that being open(er) also makes you vulnerable(er), which could be exploited. This possibility does indeed exist. But in my opinion, the argument that employees will recognize you more clearly and therefore trust you more easily outweighs this. And - as is often the case in such situations - employees will also be more open with you. All in all, this means that everyone has fewer hypotheses about their colleagues on the left and on the right, but more clarity, more trust, less uncertainty.
And so a circle closes: connections beat contacts in uncertain times. Connections are significant relationships and are based on mutual trust. Trust requires not only honesty, but also transparency. And this comes from openness.
You may now be asking yourself what you could open up about? Of course, the preferences for this are quite individual. That’s why I suggest an outside-in perspective - that is, that you don’t ask yourself how far you want to open up, but how much others need: Would you trust yourself if you were a collaborator? If yes, why and what, if anything, could you contribute to further strengthen that trust? If no, why not? Where are you not honest with yourself? Do you keep employees from whom you would rather part? Have you accepted projects even though you can hardly see the forest for the trees? Do you not do what you say you will do? Are you lying to others or to yourself? Whatever it is, there may be good reasons or they may be entertaining a pattern that has somehow crept in. If so, you should (learn to) open up to yourself first. This hurts, but it is liberating and probably inevitable for your inner peace.