You've probably had a chance to listen to a leader talk about some of their greatest moments. You may have taken furious notes, trying to take in every ounce of wisdom this person has to share. You may have heard this person talk about "that one big deal" that changed the direction of the company. One challenging conversation they had. Or even a risky strategic decision that could have tanked the company. There's something else they probably mentioned.
These leaders talk a lot about lunch.
I'm not talking about wining and dining your next big customer. I'm talking about how the most influential leaders always seemed to have time for what really mattered for their business -- their team members. A superstar superintendent comes to mind who always made time once a week to eat lunch with his bus drivers.
This is a common ingredient in the secret sauce of all great leaders. They take the time to engage with the frontline employee -- to communicate value and trust, to reinforce the "Why" for the good work we do here, and to create access to understand what's really true about our company.
This last piece is especially important. Too many leaders at the top are hopelessly unaware of how their company really operates. In its worst form, this looks like a leader who says, "We value relationships here" and the team member rolls their eyes and thinks, No, we really don't.
It's why when compared to their bosses, employees are around 50% more likely to have contrasting opinions on how the company really operates.
Do you ever grab lunch with your team members? Ever take the time to really, truly engage with them?
Here's why this matters.
1) Trust is the easiest pathway to results. The greatest strategies in the world will fail with a team that doesn't trust its leadership. There's no better way to create camaraderie, and build trust, than sharing a meal with your employee. Show them you're a real, authentic person. You won't lose authority -- the opposite will happen. They'll realize you value them and will work that much harder for you and the business.
2) Clarity empowers people. People want to understand exactly how they specifically fit and why their work matters, and how their work relates to the direction of the company. Many leaders avoid these conversations because, scarily enough, they don't know these answers themselves. But when you create time and space for your team members to gain clarity in their roles as well as the company as a whole -- they will flourish.
3) Improvement follows feedback. I think this one's tough. It's tough to hear from an employee how we've missed the mark. But this is how our companies grow and develop. The bottom line is that so many leaders are disconnected with their employees because their vantage point from 30,000 feet up doesn't match what it really feels like to work in this company at the ground level. Humble leaders -- the ones who have a real, meaningful legacy -- are willing to "ground themselves" off the feedback of their employees, even when that feedback is an ego blow.
So, do you know how your company really operates? Do you understand what your business values, and I mean really values? Do your team members trust you, and more importantly, do they know how their work fits and matters to the mission?
Lunch is a great first step.