I recently delivered a keynote speech to a large multinational business about how to engage their staff better and thought I’d share one key message with you.
I began by asking the audience to take a second and think about the best teacher, coach, or mentor they ever had and to come up with one memory of them. Try it yourself.
What’s your memory? Is it something they said? Something they did?
Perhaps what you remembered wasn’t anything particular they said or did, but just their face – specifically their eyes, and how those eyes looked at you – or, rather, looked into you. Which is to say: the lasting impact of our teachers might not be contained in their words, but in the connections they form with us.
When you look around today, many leaders seem to be doing everything but connecting. Go to a football game, for instance, and you tend to see coaches on the sideline doing a lot of talking (shouting out mid-game advice, orchestrating the action), but not a lot of connecting. Certain CEOs and managers are similar, orchestrating things via email.
I once asked Sir Alex Ferguson: if the average coach says 100 words to his players, how many words should a great coach say?
Ferguson looked into my eyes; he let me know he had really heard the question and was giving it due consideration.
“Ten words,” he said. “Fewer, if possible.”
The truth is, great coaches and teachers don’t spend their time talking. They spend most of their time watching and listening. And when they communicate, they don’t just start talking. First they connect on an emotional level, to one individual at a time. They deliver concise, useful information, and they make that information stick. Just like Ferguson did when he communicated with me.
So with that in mind I’d like to offer the following checklist to use before you start talking.
- Are you connected? Do you have the person’s complete and undivided attention?
- Do you know – deeply understand – where that person is in their development right now, and what the next step is?
- Can you, in five seconds or less, deliver a clear, memorable piece of useful information to help them take that step?
Watch Ferguson work and you’ll see him sidle up to a player, put a hand on their shoulder, connect with them, and deliver a nugget of helpful information. Then he steps away, allowing the player to take that nugget and start applying it.
Ferguson’s players, of course, will remember him for the rest of their lives. Not just because he makes them play better (which he does) or because he’s so entertaining (which he is, too) but for the same reason you remember your greatest leader: because they connected.
How will you be remembered?