One challenge for leaders in the workplace is learning how to motivate their teams. Like many leadership skills, doing so demands intentionality and authenticity. In Episode #39 of our Executive Leadership Podcast, we explore how leaders can win, influence, and connect with those around them.

To continue building your skills in winning, influencing, and connecting, consider bringing a 5 Levels of Leadership Workshop to your organization this year.

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Read the transcript below:

Welcome to the John Maxwell Company Executive Leadership Podcast where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

I’m Chris Goede, Vice President of The John Maxwell Company. Today’s topic is titled “Five Skills for Winning, Influencing and Connecting.” This is a Level 2 skill set in the 5 Levels of Leadership, which is what we base all of our conversations around, building the foundation of leadership. We’re really going to talk about connecting with others, which is such a key for leaders to develop buy in from others, which is a huge word.

I came up with this. I travel, as you do, a lot. And I got to noticing how people present themselves when you engage, when you have a conversation and I, you know, from the casual conversation on an airplane or even a more robust conversation in the office with people that I work with or people that work for me. People often go out of their way to try to do things to impress when they’re communicating versus connecting. And I just started looking at, you know, if you’re really trying to impress, you’re not really trying to connect and what would it take to really develop the skills like we said about winning and influencing and really connecting with people. So that’s really where I’m thinking.

I love the idea because I do think all of us right now can think about people that we have conversations with that are really just trying to impress you. And when that is the case, at its core the conversation is really about them, not about you or even both of you. And it reminded me of this quote that I kind of dug back into one of John’s books, “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect”, which by the way, is a great book for those that maybe struggle connecting or communicating right, and then even those that like you and I that are Level 2 and just don’t have a problem with that. It was John’s easiest book because he kind of has a natural bent that way as well. He said he sat down one night, thought about a couple of things that he does to communicate and connect with people and all night just wrote and basically had the outline done. But in there I pulled this out for us. It says, “as time goes by, the way people live outweigh the words that they use.”And I thought the way that they live is even part of how they have conversations. And so how you’re having it, where you’re coming from, and whether you’re trying to impress somebody outweighs even what you’re saying. And you can feel it. Like you can feel it when somebody does that with your identity, becoming completely transparent. I watched the guy on the plane the other day and he just went out of his way to try and impress me. Doesn’t know me, doesn’t need to know me, it’s a very short-term relationship. But I walked away. I said, do I do that? And I remind myself, started analyzing when I’m in a conversation, while someone’s talking to me, trying to best their story, am I trying to top what they’re telling me and what I ended up with the guy, yeah. How did I do that and all that. Do I, or am I more interested in really connecting with them? So, I started looking at, for me and for the people that I coach in our coaching business here, how would I teach you to really connect and win and influence others?

So I thought skill number one would be to really initiate conversations. One of the guys I coached, he was so shocked when I said, how’d it go this week? He said, I was at a company meeting and the CEO of the company actually came over, walked right up to me and started a conversation. I’ve never worked for a senior leader that would do that. And I thought, wow, is that odd? But yes, when you’re a senior leader, any leader, if you wait for others to engage you, that’s a little bit of a challenge. I mean, you need to initiate it. That shows that you’re really willing to start the conversation.

I think that most organizations, especially larger organizations, look at the senior leadership as unapproachable.  We talk a lot about gaps in all of our leadership conversations. And so, when there’s that gap, it is the responsibility of that senior leader or the leader, period, and your team to make that initiation to connect with them. John taught me a long time ago, he said, “Hey, don’t ever walk anywhere in a crowd, in the office or whatever with your head down”. And now I say even, you know, texting or replying to an email on my phone, which a lot of us do, and some of us probably get hurt walking around the office because we’re not even looking. Never do that. Always make sure you’re up, you’re smiling, you’re making eye contact, which we talk a lot about. And as a leader you need to be doing that in order to connect. And when you sent this over to me, there’s a couple of things that I wrote down and said, okay, what is that true connection outside of these skills underneath this, this first point you brought here to initiate that. So when you initiate it, just be in the moment, right? Be yourself, be in the moment. And I love this, and we talk a lot about this, we will a little bit later on in this podcast is just be curious. And the other’s perspective. If you can do those three things under this, the initiation will come a little bit easier to you.

Well, I love your example about walking around. I just keeping your head up, making eye contact. There’s enough that you might see, people are watching you all the time, they’re waiting to see, are you interested in what you’re doing? Are you interested in what is going on around you and are you willing to engage with me doing that?

I do in the airport. I just, I keep my head up, look at people, eye contact, speak to people. Hey, how you doing? Good to see you again. I know I can be that guy, and people are following me going, Whoa, what’s he so happy about? Or you’ll have your daughter, which will be my daughter would be like, dad, why do you feel like you need to say hi to everybody? And I’m like, it’s just a result of me trying to have a smile on my face. I don’t always, but make eye contact. And so when they look at you it, there’s that time and I just say, hey, how are you doing? I might be like, you want, I should add here is this smile because I did the smile test with the airport. TSA does start to follow, you will notice, and they noticed, okay.

Number two skill for really connecting and winning and influencing: ask great questions. I really find that the easiest way to stay away from talking about me is to ask questions and like you said, that curiosity comes in and I’m really finding out what makes people tick. Curiosity is an overlooked skill. And you’ve even sent me some articles and stuff over the last six months and I have begun digging into, you know, what are you passionate about, what are you curious about? And I think all leaders really need to develop the skill and it can be developed of, of curiosity. I think that gives you an others-oriented kind of outlook on things. I wrote down these two things about curiosity that I really like that I pulled out in an article. It said, if you’re curious, it’ll do these two things.

It makes your mind active instead of passive. And we always want our mind to be moving in an active state. And the other thing is that makes your mind observant to new ideas. And I think as we lead people, as we grow businesses, we always need to be looking and be curious about new ideas in order to help the business. And so those are kind of two things that I think come from curiosity. But to your point, if you’re asking great questions, I had a gentleman come to me one time and he’s like, how in the world do you connect with so many people? He would watch me in conversations and I said, it’s very simple. I always lead with questions and I’m authentic about it. But one question leads to another and you do it in a way that’s casual, right?

I’m not saying, okay, question number three, and then you start going down the list. But if you’re curious about what you’re hearing, the questions will be authentic, and they’ll come from a good place and you’ll connect with people through doing that. I’ve seen you in action a couple of times recently when I was a formal interview with John Smoltz that we talked about recently. I saw you just last week hooking it up with Reggie Jackson, the great baseball player, and you’re just, instead of like everybody else, sit around looking at him, you just unloaded with about three questions and he stood up and took notice. I mean, that’s really a great example. He did. Yeah, some were good questions. Maybe someday we’ll have to do a leadership lesson with that. Stay tuned for the interviews with John Smoltz and then maybe one with Reggie Jackson.

Number three skill for connecting, winning and influencing: take a genuine interest in others. John teaches this and I really got this from him. The picture of myself get introduced to a large audience but based on questions of uncovering who they are and what they valued and what they bring to the group style, I always want to think about me. And it’s just natural, I guess. But to take a genuine interest in the audiences? Generally speaking, people really care about three things about themselves. And this is for us too, so ourselves, themselves, they care about their victories and their struggles. And if you’re not speaking to those you’re not in their top three. When it comes to a mindset, you talked about the comment that John made about taking note and you’re getting ready to get introduced or speak to people.

I’ll never forget the story, and this may be the same story you’re talking about where he was backstage with a young speaker and it was a lineup of speakers in this, this guy was a kind of maybe out of his league, but he was up and coming and, and so he went up to John, he said, now, John, you okay? So do you get anxious? Do you get nervous? You know, and John, you know, 72, now kind of giggles. He’s like, well, when you’ve done it 12,000 times, I don’t anymore. He goes, well, what do you think about right before you go out? What is it like? And so the kid is sitting there just, you know, wanting this, this gold, and John Goes, it’s very simple. What is it that they need to hear from me? Not what is it that I have to tell them.

And they give us like, like that’s all you got. Like that’s it. And John’s like, if you think about it, that’s enough. And so if you have that perspective, when you’re getting ready to just even connect with somebody in a one on one conversation, you’ll be in their top three thoughts of what’s important to them. I love that. What’s the value that you can give to them? And you know, do I want you to think I’m impressive? Sure. But that’s not why I’m here. I want you to think I’m smart. Sure. But that’s not why I’m here. Do I want you to think I’m fantastic in every way? Sure. But that’s not why I’m here. I want to connect cause I want to add value to your life. And it just changes your entire perspective of how you see people. A number four on the skill list.

Of course, if you’re going to ask good questions, you better be a good listener. You, me, the fastest way to show value to another human is really to listen to them. Whether you’re a child in your home, a spouse or significant other or a friend or coworker at work, truly listening is the key to winning them as friends, communicating that you value them. and good leaders can ask great questions and show that they’re listening to really fully understand. And that’s what I think we all think we’re better listeners than we really are, and we’ve done a podcast on that, doubt about that, but I need to keep working on that skill. That goes back to that statement of I know you, you hear me that like, I hear my wife’s voice right now.

I know you hear me. Are you listening for this? For me, and this has become even more and more relevant in today’s terms with technology is, we have to do our best to remove distractions. The things, you know, we talked about earlier, I gave you that quote, John talked about, you know, how you live your life, right? And that is even more than what you’re saying to me. So you think about that, and even the actions that I’m showing you while you’re talking to me. So whether my head down on my phone or you know, I’m on my laptop, and I think I shared this example on a previous podcast about an organization we were with in Texas where no matter who it is right when it is that what’s going on, if the guy’s door is open, he’s an executive level at a large company, that if someone walks in, he shuts his laptop, stands up and has, you know, I’d have eye contact with them at their level.

And it just shows that man, he’s fully engaged and he’s not only hearing you, but he’s listening to you. And I think with all the distractions that we have, think about the conversations you’ve had over lunch where somebody is easily distracted and kind of looking over your shoulder and you’re like, am I really talking to anybody or who’s sitting here or whatever it is. And so as much as it has to do with listening, it also has to do with your body posture and the way that they can read you of whether or not they are truly listening to you, you know? And, and just to pile onto that, I’m number five and then I found for me would be listen more than I talk. In general, the more you’re talking, the less value you’re showing to someone else if you’re generally interested in them.

This is really not that difficult to do, but I’m practicing small habits of asking for clarification, repeating back to them, so what you’re saying is just trying to do ways where I can turn it away from me and back to them. It’s from Dale Carnegie, and may make someone more important than yourself. You do less talking and I’ve had it said of me and my wife, a guy just said that you’re such a great communicator. And I said, I hardly said a word. That’s right. When they are talking, they think you’re the communicator. That’s something to learn there. It can be a differentiator when you get people to begin to talk. And it reminds me of this story that Jason Grant, one of our senior consultants shares, and I don’t know the reference of the study, but it talks about where they actually videotaped a guy going into a party and, they said, here’s the deal.

You’re not allowed to do anything but ask questions. And so they, they have a video crew secretly filming this whole thing. He’s miked up, right? And so there’s these two ladies that talked to him at the, at the bar, and all he does is respond with questions, ask questions, and they never met before. And so they talk for 10 or 15, 20 minutes, whatever it might be. And then as they’re leaving the party, they grabbed those two young ladies and they said, hey, you know, we saw you having a conversation with the guy over at the bar. Hey, how’d that go? And they’re like, oh my gosh. He was the most fascinating guy that we’ve ever met. And they’re like, really? Like, what was his name? No, no, no, no. What do you know? Anything about him, don’t know. And all they did is, you know, answer his questions and talked and they thought he was the most fascinating guy.

So guys out there, there’s that, that’s some good advice right there. We just gave you some solid advice but well it’s really this, the reason this came to me is that I noticed that my ability to be seen and heard as one thing, my ability to connect and making a difference. And you mentioned that the top buy in and people buy into you before they buy into anything you’re trying to do. And if I can, that’s right. Get your buy in by connecting with you, developing an influence with you and winning with you through my ability to communicate this way. I said a very important topic and something we easily overlook because it’s fast paced. I’m in a hurry. I don’t have time for that. You better make time cause this is where it’s going to really promote your business and in relationships and that 5 Levels you’re not going to be able to get the Level 3 production unless you’ve heavily connected at Level 2.

Yeah, and I think there is, I’m at Level 2 which is the foundation for us for kind of all leadership and I think it’s what makes your leadership sustainable. We talk about it as relationships, but hear us today, we’re talking about giving you tools to connect to people without having necessarily to build a relationship. We don’t have to like people to be able to connect to people. If you develop learned behaviors, you’ll be able to connect with people in a way that will help you be successful. I have another quote for you. Have a book that you’re probably very familiar with. A lot of people probably are as well how to win friends and influence people, right? It’s, it’s one of John’s foundational books from quote from Dale Carnegie where he says, you make more friends in two weeks by becoming interested in others than you can in two years by trying to get others interested in you.

And I thought, man, that, that right there kind of sums up everything that we’re talking about with connecting people today and these five things. In closing, here’s a couple of things that I just wrote down for you, man. Think about establishing common ground in those conversations. What is it? We have leaders that say, listen, I absolutely cannot stand person X. How in the world am I going to connect? And we talk about, man, find the 1% you have in common and go 100% in on that 1%. There’s got to be 1%, you know, in there of being able to connect with people. The other thing I wrote down is just keep it simple. You know, I don’t want you to be talking down to people that you don’t need to necessarily go so deep to people to where it’s like they see you coming, right? And they’re just like, oh, here comes another heavy conversations or bright light. Yeah, that’s right. Like, that guy’s got questions for you. And then, and then finally, when it comes to curiosity, I read this, this little statement the other day, I thought so profound. They said, go to people, not Google. And I thought, wow. Like I even have a tendency to, if I began to think about something curious, I go, well, let me just Google it. But what if I began picking up the phone or I began connecting with people to help answer some of my curiosity, that would build a relationship that would build a connection point between me and that individual. So go to people, not Google. That’s my thought for him. And I recall one that I read that said, are you listening or are you reloading a while? Someone else was talking. I’ve been thinking about that one a lot. Well, great stuff, Chris. Thanks for the reminder and a thank you all for listening. Always great to have you along.

Just a reminder, if you’d like to learn more about the 5 Levels of Leadership or even possibly have a workshop at your location, you can go to and you can leave a comment for us there. You can also, if you have a question about leadership you’d like us to answer, we’re always anxious to hear from you. That’s all for today. Thank you again for joining. This is The John Maxwell Company Executive Leadership Podcast.