By Liz Valentine, CEO, Swift (a POSSIBLE agency)
Being a competent CEO is one thing. Being a likable CEO is something else entirely--and it can seem like an impossibly abstract task.
Studies have shown that it's a special challenge for female leadership.
During my time as a CEO, I've discovered that the surest route to relatability is simply being there for my employees: being present, listening, and actively participating.
This seems to work across genders and from upper management on down. It makes everyone in the work environment feel included and inspired, and it makes me a happier, more understanding boss.
Here are six small, easy actions any leader can adopt to better connect with his or her team:
1. Wash the dishes
A quick way to become more relatable is to get your hands dirty. Literally.
Try doing the dishes the next time you walk by the break room. Cleaning a few coffee cups can show that you care about community spaces, and it gives you an opportunity to lead by example.
Cleaning up only takes a few minutes. It allows you to clear your mind between heftier work tasks, and you'll be surprised by how many people stop to chat--or to thank you.
2. Invite new employees for coffee or lunch
New employees often arrive with the idea that CEOs are untouchable. We want to shatter that barrier immediately, and the best way to do it is to introduce yourself and set up a coffee or lunch.
Recently, I introduced myself to a new employee and he responded, "I can't go to lunch with you. You're the CEO!" My job is much more fun and less lonely when people aren't scared of me--when the entire staff know they can request time to talk with anyone at the company.
Once you've sat down with employees, it's much easier to recall their names, ask after their families and interests, and understand their contributions to the company.
3. Be the first person on the dance floor
We have several agencywide parties each year, and I make it a point to hit the dance floor or grab the karaoke mic early in the game.
Being a CEO doesn't just mean making room in the budget for celebrations. It also means participating in them--and meaning it.
Work-related events are about blowing off steam with colleagues, getting to know co-workers from other departments, and meeting your employees' families. Early, enthusiastic participation is also a great icebreaker, and clears the way for others to jump right in.
4. Get personal
Whenever I leave work to pick one of my kids up for an activity or doctor's appointment, I specifically mention it.
It does so much more than humanize me--it shows others that it is perfectly OK to have a personal life outside of work, and that I understand that everyone has important responsibilities and cares outside the office.
I model that behavior so all employees feel comfortable leaving a few minutes early to take care of themselves and their families.
5. Be physically present
A CEO can say she doesn't consider herself any different from other employees, but that can be a hard sell if you're locked away in a corner office all day with an administrative assistant standing guard.
Open floor plans minimize hierarchy and allow all employees to experience the same work environment and shared moments. I'm more accessible to discuss an upcoming project or answer a quick question.
Yes, greater accessibility comes with challenges, but the trade is worth the reward: a respected leadership team that's not untouchable.
6. Request feedback
Perhaps the best way to build relationships with the people at your company is to ask them how you're doing.
CEOs should have performance reviews just like any other employee, and that performance review should include anonymous feedback from your team.
These reviews accomplish two things:
- They make sure that employees know their voices are being heard.
- They let you know how you truly appear to your colleagues.
Before I was a CEO, I always worked best under leaders who inspired me and invested in me as an employee. Now that I'm on the other side, it's become even clearer to me that upbeat leaders create positive work environments--and great results.