How to feel more emotionally connected to your team

There isn’t one right way to be a leader, especially when it comes to how you interact with your teams. Part of leadership is managing the hearts and minds of your team—and that can get sticky.

Let’s say you delegated a team member’s birthday party lunch because you didn’t have time to plan it; and frankly, you wanted to get to bed earlier that particular day. However, you sense that this move rubbed some of your team members the wrong way. After a couple of interactions like this, you hear from your manager that your team thinks you are “unemotional.” They feel demotivated.

Some leaders feel there’s nothing to be done in this situation: “This is who I am, I don’t care what others think, my team needs to flex to my style.” But as a leader, you’re not only responsible for outcomes; You’re also a manager of the organization’s culture. If your team members feel that you don’t care, they will become demotivated, which will impact your team’s output. Here are five ways to authentically add emotion to your leadership style:

Don’t underestimate the value of small actions

A former client was having difficulty connecting with his team. Everything seemed to be “flat:” “We’re getting okay results from our customer service reviews, but I know we could do better,” he told me. What we realized were two things. First, his teams needed to feel heard more often; second, they felt demotivated. The leader and I decided upon two small actions to help him motivate his teams.

First, in team meetings the leader began to ask “What do you think?” This enabled him to learn how things stood from his team’s perspective. Second, the leader began giving positive feedback in person or in one-on-one meetings. He had previously been delivering positive feedback over Slack. Delivering feedback impersonal over a technology platform can feel and lack the warmth that you want to portray. In his one-on-one meetings, my client allowed a small bit of time in which to deliver positive feedback. Immediately, the leader saw a jump in morale; there was more camaraderie and laughing in team meetings. The leader realized that implementing these small changes could help his team get better results over time.

Minor adjustments, like the ones my client made, can have the most significant impact. Catalog how you interact with your teams and where you want to see an improvement in morale. Then, look for the “sweet spots” where small changes can happen.

Name your emotions

Your teams aren’t mind readers. I often hear from individuals who’ve made up stories about their managers: “My manager didn’t smile on Zoom today, so I am sure they hated my recommendations.” In this case, your straightforwardness as a leader can set your team at ease. If you’re feeling stressed, it’s okay to share. For example, you might say something like: “Our budget planning deadline is fast approaching, and I have to pitch our ideas to the board—I am very stressed right now, so I am not going to have time to hear about anything else until Friday.” Be transparent while showing your team that you recognize their needs and care.

One leader I worked with made a day-to-day practice of sharing her emotions. She would say something like, “In two days, I have to deliver my point of view to the board. I am going to be distracted and a bit difficult to pin down on our work.” This enabled her and her teams to all be on the same page. Being transparent is key to a healthy team dynamic.

Engage help from mentors and team members

A trusted advisor can serve two functions. First, they can help you shape how you lead with emotions. Look back to mentors you’ve had; how have they engaged their emotions in a style you admire? Reach out and ask questions. Rekindling a relationship with a mentor will help you gain perspective. Be mindful of their time, but don’t assume time constraints for them; most people want to help. Plan on asking one question, or spend only 15 minutes getting some feedback and guidance. This will help you focus on exactly what you are looking for to elevate your leadership.

Another way you can engage support is by appointing someone to help you with the people-facing actions in the day-to-day operations of your department. Don’t delegate all people-related activities; Rather, engage a trusted member of your team to help bridge the communications gap. You can remain high-touch while having a team member handle more minor activities. For example, ask your trusted team member to help plan the offsite activities. You are not abdicating by engaging help.

Say “I’m sorry”

All leaders make mistakes. There’s a chance someone on your team may be hurt; perhaps they sense that you’ve misunderstood them. In this case, address their emotions in a specific, straightforward way. This can sound like: “In today’s meeting, I’m sorry that I didn’t call out the exceptional job you and your team did in the all-company meeting. I’m sorry that I missed that opportunity; I know how hard you all worked. I will make sure to share that point in our next meeting.” You don’t have to offer a long, drawn-out apology—just start a specific, authentic conversation.

Put down your technology

One of the easiest ways to correct an emotionless leadership style is to put down your technology and listen to what your teammates are saying. Pay attention to your teammates’ nonverbal communication, and listen closely to what is being said. When you multitask with your technology, you look like you don’t care what your team is saying. Even if you’re “extremely busy” and believe that multitasking “helps”—put down your technology. One leader I worked with found out via his 360 that his team believed he didn’t care about what they were telling him in meetings because he texted the entire time. His team was right; This leader’s actions showed that he didn’t care.

If you feel at odds with your team, you can take small actions to regain your footing. Lead authentically with your emotions; prioritize connection. That’s how you and your team will get the best results.

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