To Lead People, You Have to Connect with Them. Here’s How.

After college, I worked third shift in a cheese factory. We would come into the factory at 10:00 p.m. and help run the machines that sliced, diced, and boxed several hundred thousand pounds of cheese each day. At the end of the night, we would stop the machines, tear them down, and clean them up. In the morning, we would put it all back together and get it all running again.

One good thing about working third shift is less bosses. The higher ups in the factory didn’t want to come in during the night. They would come in the following morning. Most of them said very little to us. I always felt like there was a pretty big separation between the managers and supervisors and those who worked on the floor.

Rob Sheloni, however, was different. He would take an interest in us. He would sit down in the break room and chat with us about our lives and the work. But the thing I remember most about him is that he would do something that pretty much nobody else would do. When we had a late night and had to turn things around quickly, he would pick up the high pressure hoses we used to clean the equipment, get wet, and help us get the job done on time.

Rob Sheloni could have asked me to do almost anything. I felt a connection with him, and I felt that he cared.

And if we want people to follow us, they have to feel like we have a connection with them.

You can have a vision of where you want people to be, but if they feel no connection with you, then they won’t go there. You can know how to get there, but you can’t tell people to do it without a connection with them. On the other side, if people feel connected to you, then it is easier for them to follow you when you lead.

Now, note. This is not just a trick. If you are fake about this and are just doing it to get people to do things, it won’t work. You have to genuinely care about people. Rob Sheloni wasn’t trying to get us to do anything. He just took an interest in us, and so it was easy to follow him. Leaders develop a genuine care and interest in other people, for, as leadership expert John Maxwell said, “people buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.”

How to Develop Connection
There are a lot of books on how to connect with people, and I would recommend reading and thinking through a couple. One of my favorites is The Friendship Factor by Alan Loy McGinness. You can read an outline of some of his key insights here. There are many others, including Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Why study how to connect with people? Loving people is not just about having a good feeling. Loving people well involves wisdom in how to love them. As the Apostle Paul said, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best . . .” (Phil. 1:9–10a). Thinking about and studying how to love people well will help us know how to show people that we love them.

Wisely Connecting with People
So, how do we use wisdom to connect with people? Let me suggest four ways.

1. Be interested in what other people are interested in. We often want to begin by getting people interested in what we are interested in. However, people have their own values and likes. When we like what they like, then we show that we care about them. This means we need to begin our encounters by listening so we can know what people are interested in. For example, we may not like video games, but, if we want to connect well with our kids, then this is probably a good thing to talk about.

2. Share things about yourself. Let people know about your experiences, your triumphs, and your struggles. This helps people identify with you. If they think you have no struggles, they will have a hard time feeling that you are a real person that they can connect with.

3. Be lavish in praise. Jordan Peterson remarked that people need so little encouragement. What he meant by that is that a little bit of encouragement can have a huge impact. We should not flatter people, but if we see good things in people, we should say what we see. There’s really no downside to this, but it’s amazing how slow people can be to say positive things. This will help build connection.

4. Be deliberate about connecting. It’s easy to connect in a haphazard way. However, if we are going to connect well, we will have to be deliberate about it. What will happen is we will talk to the people we connect with most easily. We won’t connect with those who are harder to connect with or less convenient to connect with. It’s good to have plans and lists to connect with people regularly. Relationships take work, and we can get that work done by planning and executing.

Learning from My Mistake
We don’t always do this on a one-on-one level. We can show connection by connecting with a group. When I first came to my current church, I made a mistake in connection. The church was meeting in a Seventh Day Adventist Church. They had a great group of people with a staff and resources. I was really excited to join them, and I felt really privileged to be a part of it. I communicated that. So far, so good.

I was so happy about the new church, though, that I missed the tremendous amount of hurt that the people had to work through. You see, they had lost a very large building that they owned in a key part of town. They had lost their pastor. They had lost their music leader. For many of them, grief and sometimes anger was the dominant emotion. They did not feel excited. I often took that grief as an attack on me, and that was a mistake. I had to learn to lean into their emotions before I could help many of them move forward. That was an error of connection. You can read a bit more about that here.

This event is a reminder to me that when we want to get somewhere, we can’t just look at the vision or the means to get there. We have to look at the people and see where they really are. We have to connect. Connecting with people is something that is worth pursuing in itself. God created us for connection! It is also the best way to help people move forward.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope it was a blessing to you. Do you have a story of leadership where someone did or did not connect well in a way that had an effect on their leadership? I’d love to hear it. Contact me, or comment below. You can also follow this series of articles by subscribing in the right hand column (laptop) or below (mobile).


Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash


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