Making Contact – Employee Connection
This summer my seven-year-old son started playing baseball for the first time. Honestly, I’ve steered him away from it because I hated baseball as a kid. There’s something so vulnerable about standing in the batter’s box trying to hit the ball, with your success or failure on display for the world to see. I found it humiliating and didn’t want to my son to experience the same pain.
In my quest to overcome my childhood demons, I finally decided to encourage my son to give baseball a try. At his first practice, I felt a familiar angst as I watched him step up to the plate for the first time. He had no idea what he was doing. He looked like he was fighting Darth Vader rather than trying to hit a ball. It didn’t seem to faze him – I admire his internal sense of self-confidence – but I was rattled.
His first game was coming up in a few days and I knew I had to make an attempt to teach him how to hit a ball. But, where do I start? I can still barely hit a ball off of a tee, so I decided to start with some basics. Stance. “Okay, Will, be sure that you stand so that your toes are lined up. That’s it. Feet straight.” Holding the bat. “Now, be sure that you keep your right elbow up. Yep, just like that.” Eyes. “The most important thing is to keep your eyes on the ball. You’ve got to watch the ball so your brain knows where to tell your arms to swing the bat.” “Feet straight. Elbow up. Eye on ball. Swing! Feet straight. Elbow up. Eye on ball. Swing!” We stood in the hot Oklahoma sun chanting together. Feet straight. Elbow up. Eye on ball. Swing!
Something amazing happened. He began to make contact. He’s not hitting it out of the ballpark by any stretch. But he can confidently take his turn at home plate and put a ball into play. He’s moving up the batting order. Feet straight. Elbow up. Eye on ball. Swing!
As leaders, we all want to knock it out of the park. I’ve worked with countless leaders over the years, and, to the person, they all dream of making real impact. So, why are so many swinging and missing? Before we can hit homeruns, we’ve got to focus on making contact.
I was recently facilitating a discussion about leadership for a group of frontline supervisors at an oilfield services company. I put them into small groups to discuss the qualities that they most admired in leaders they had served under and, when they reported back, they all said the same thing – they cared about me. Yes, their lists included things like working hard, setting goals and accomplishing great business results, but when it all came down to it, what they really wanted was a leader who could make contact with them as a person.
One CEO pointed to the piles of financial reports on his desk and said to me, “This stuff is the easy stuff. It’s the people side of the business that’s the most difficult.” If you resonate with that, my advice is to start with the basics. Start by getting to know the life stories of the people who work for you. Here are five questions you can ask:
- Where did you grow up?
- What was your growing up like (happy, sad, lonely, fun)?
- What were you like in high school (jock, nerd, cheerleader, “band geek”)?
- What’s one of the greatest things you’ve had to overcome in your life?
- What personal challenges are you currently facing?
Not only will the answers to these questions give you valuable insights into what makes people tick, you’ll also be on the road to being seen as a leader who cares. So, give it a try. Step up into the relational batter’s box and get to know people’s story. You don’t have to hit a homerun right away. Just focus on making contact. Feet straight. Elbow up. Eye on ball. Swing!