The New York Yankees baseball team had a great year in 2017. Given that several of their starting players were very young, they were not predicted to make the playoffs, but to show big promise for the future. Instead they not only made the playoffs, but came within one game of going to the World Series. So…why would the Yankees manager of the past ten years, which included a World Series championship, be fired after the end of a very successful 2017? The General Manager of the Yankees answered that question directly: “he simply could not connect and communicate well with the players.”
The Yankees example immediately brought to mind a University of Pennsylvania Wharton School study of a few years ago describing how Wharton incorporated military leadership principles into the MBA curriculum. One example from the study that stuck with me underscored the importance of creating a personal link with people in your organization and how it pays off when leading major change.
The example involved the visit of the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to one of the MBA classes. A few minutes before class time, as the students were beginning to take their assigned seats in the tiered classroom, this four-star General walked into the room, accompanied by half a dozen staffers and security agents. The General walked straight to the first row and began to introduce himself to students. He chatted briefly with each student, asking a bit about their background and interests.
When he got to the third row, he met a student from Moscow, who described how his father was a General in the Red Army during the Cold War. The General picked up on it quickly and indicated what fun it would be to have a round of vodka with his father and chat about similar experiences, immediately putting the student at ease as well as the entire class. The students sensed immediately that this was a regular guy who was easy to approach and interact with.
During the class, the General talked about the importance of conveying to your organization the strategic intent of what they were about to pursue. Because the General had created such a friendly and informal tone, the students didn’t clam up due to his status or security entourage; in fact they weren’t hesitant at all to ask questions and seek insight into the problems that typically emerge.
This example from Wharton has three very simple but highly important points:
1.) Take the Time to Meet and Interact with the People in Your Organization – There is simply no substitute for creating such opportunities. You have to plan for it and set aside time in your schedule or it typically won’t happen.
2.) Make it Natural and Personal – If people get to know you a bit they will be much more likely to tell you what is on their mind, particularly when they have an idea, see an opportunity, or have a suggestion for generating improvement.
3.) Don’t be Judgmental – Your job is to listen and probe, letting the person know that you are genuinely interested in them and their ideas and suggestions.
You will be amazed at how the time invested to do these things will pay off!