To some, the answer may seem obvious. But think back to the time right after you accepted your first leadership position. Did anyone offer you the following advice? “Congratulations on your new position! You’re going to be great! I know you have a lot to learn, so let me give you some advice that will save you a lot of headaches. My advice is this: don’t get too close to your people. If you get too close to your people, you won’t be able to make objectives decisions concerning them. It will be a whole lot easier to supervise or manage people if you don’t get close to them.”
Many of us received this advice from well-meaning supporters. The problem is no matter how sincere it was, it is not valid. As relationships and expectations among employees and employers have changed over the years, so have the unwritten, often unquestioned concepts that have governed behavior. So let’s dispel this myth once and for all.
How Well Should You Know Your Employees?
To be clear, when I’m talking about getting to know your employees, I’m not talking about dating them, drinking with them, or going on vacation with them. Obvious professional, ethical and perception issues haunt those situations. I’m simply reminding leaders that to get the best from the employees entrusted to them, they must begin by showing sincere interest in them.
Look at it this way: You can be a supervisor or manager without getting close to your employees; however, you cannot be a leader unless you get close to your employees. Supervisors and managers supervise and manage things — physical, financial, technical resources. Leaders lead people. Common sense tells us that people aren’t likely to follow you if they know you’ve never taken time to get to know them personally. How can we possibly lead effectively if we have no idea what motivates, demotivates, compels or demoralizes our followers?
The bottomline question for a leader is this: If you haven’t invested in getting to know your employees, why should they invest themselves in supporting you as their leader?