Sharing a grand vision is important, but often employees want to know they’re being led by someone who also has two feet firmly on the ground …
Many years back, I sat in an audience, watching my CEO hitch up his pants in between sentences, sip from his water, and mumble about how proud he was to be the leader of a great team.
Except that he wasn’t. Not really. That was obvious for everyone to see. Instead, he was divorced, dissociated and distant; desperately awkward in front of the people he was charged with leading.
And for the most part, the favour was returned. In the few moments he set aside for mingling after his address, the conversations were vague with all the warmth of a maths exam.
Why? Because there wasn’t anything to hitch an engaging conversation to.
Politicians, or at least their strategists, understand that winning people’s support isn’t always about vision, strategy or a pithy articulation of the issues. There is a very clear reason why the President of the United States gets handed a baseball mitt for a quick game of catch in front of the press photographers, when Air Force One touches down on the tarmac, or why the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom pops into a local pub for a beer when he’s out gathering votes.
Without such2 moments, those leaders are hard to separate from their wealthy families, top educations and privileged backgrounds, which themselves offer only an embarrassing comparison to that of their would-be electorate.
If they have one thing in common, leaders of highly engaged organisations are great at creating a compelling personal narrative separate from their professional roles.
Ooba sales head Bradd Bendall has built a niche as a ridiculously well informed rugby pundit. His #DearHeyneke posts during the reign of the hapless Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer earned a broad readership and nearly spun off a range of t-shirts (Meyer stepped down too soon, unfortunately).
Sage ONE boss Steven Cohen rides a motorcycle to work, is a self-avowed fan of alternative rock band Radiohead and is known for his casual dress sense and even more casual language. During his monthly addresses to the entire company, he pulls no punches in saying things exactly as he sees them.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin often joined in a game of beach volleyball on the company’s campus, with the other Googlers.
Politicians know that creating easy points of connection helps to build a narrative that is key to winning mass votes. It’s probably no different for you.