When I was 18 years old I enlisted in the Virginia Army National Guard. The armory near my college was home to the 229th Engineers, a battalion of light combat engineers. As a college student I was undeterred by the recruiter’s comments about the 229th not providing any marketable job training. Although training in explosives and small unit tactics didn’t help me land any jobs, the leadership skills I developed with my sapper unit have helped me again and again throughout my career. Near the top of my list of solid leadership skills is the ability to build rapport with your team. My personal experience in the 229th Engineers showed me some leaders are only leaders because of their appointed position or title but the best leaders have active supporters and willing followers. In light of that here are a few ways you can build rapport with your teams and gain a cadre of active followers.
Five Actions You Can Take to Build Rapport With Your Team
1. Show Genuine Interest In Your Team Members
Taking a little time to really get to know the people on your team has huge pay offs. Everybody wants to be accepted and appreciated. When you take time to learn a little about them it shows you care about them as people, not just disposable resources. Having worked as a consultant for many years, I’ve seen my share of clients who considered me a temporary resource for their organization. Although I always give them my best, it comes much more easily when I’m working with people who see me as more than just a resource. You don’t have to know everything that’s going on in a person’s life but asking questions about their family and interests outside of work will add a real human touch to your leadership. People will work harder and go the extra mile for somebody who cares about them. One word of caution, you have to show a sincere interest in people. If people believe you’re putting on a show to win them over you will have a hard time ever earning their respect.
2. Don’t Try to Correct Everything
Earlier in my career I was a real perfectionist. Perhaps it comes from my background as a software developer where peer reviews of our work products were common. Or maybe it comes from my years in the 229th where we conducted “after action reviews” (ARRs) after training missions. The intent was to discover opportunities for improvement and understand how to continue the things we did well. Institutional learning and continual improvement are both admirable pursuits for an organization but good leaders know when constructive criticism matters, when it’s important, and when it’s not. If you have to put your touch on everything that comes across your desk, people on your team will grow to resent it.
3. Let People Make Decisions
Few people enjoy being micro-managed. The more experienced a person is, the more they will bristle at the thought of micro-management. If you really want to earn respect, allow people to make decisions when it is appropriate. With critical decisions that you must make, get their input before you make it. Seeking input and delegating decisions appropriately demonstrates the value of your team members’ thoughts and opinions and fosters an environment of mutual respect.
4. Be Careful When Joking Around
As a leader it’s easy to forget you’re not an equal to the people you lead. At times this is not as true as it appears but nonetheless it is often the perception. When you realize your team views you as an authority figure it becomes obvious why you need to be more considerate in your interactions with them. You may feel teasing or making sarcastic remarks is all in good fun. What you may not realize is the people you’re joking with often feel they cannot reciprocate. As a result they can begin to feel insulted and powerless to do anything about it. Before you joke about somebody on your team, stop and ask yourself how you would feel if your boss’s boss said the same thing to you. Leaders who respect this inequality of power will find ways to have fun with their teams in ways that are appreciated.
5. Consistently Act With Integrity
In his book Management Peter Drucker wrote “A person’s coworkers, especially the subordinates, know in a few weeks whether he or she has integrity or not. They may forgive a great deal: incompetence, ignorance, insecurity, or bad manners. But they will not forgive a lack of integrity. Nor will they forgive higher management for choosing such a person.” Think about your best and worst managers. Even the best of them occasionally made a bad call or missed an opportunity but chances are you quickly forgave their short term set back. Conversely, I bet you never felt pride helping a dishonest or deceiving manager achieve their career goals. I once left an organization where I was thriving. I didn’t leave for lack of opportunity. In fact I proactively sought out other opportunities when it became clear the company was being managed without integrity.
In order to manage or lead people to high performance, it’s essential you build their trust and establish rapport with them. People will work at their standard level of performance for most leaders but the ones who feel a connection with their leadership will give it all they’ve got to avoid letting that leader down or prevent them from failing. By following the five steps listed here you can begin building better rapport with your teams right now.