Moving from Level 1 to Level 2 in the Five Levels of Leadership means that people are following you because they want to, not just because they have to. Getting there requires building relationships and really connecting with your people. Are you listening to your team? Are you asking questions and being curious? In Episode 6 of our Executive Leadership Podcast, Perry Holley and Chris Goede will share tips for leaders to boost their connectivity and take the leap to a Level 2 leader.

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Read the transcript below:

Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast where our goal is to help you increase your level of influence, increase your reputation as a leader, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to drive remarkable results. I’m Perry Holley, Certified John Maxwell Facilitator and Coach. And, I’m Chris Goede, Vice President with the John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining.

Well, thanks, Chris. And today’s episode is titled “Connecting is the Key”. I’m eager to learn — the key to what? Great question, Perry and today we’re going to talk about that. We’re going to talk about what it takes to climb the Five Levels of Leadership from Level 1 to Level 2 by establishing relationships and connecting more than anything. And we’re going to talk a little bit about that. You know and John wrote a book, everyone communicates and if you connect, right, it’s a great book. As a matter of fact, a little side story he said that’s the easiest book he’s ever written. He just sat down and he does it naturally, but there is some skill set to it and in there he makes a statement where he says connecting is more of a skill than most people think and there are things that you can do to improve that and I hope today maybe we’ll talk a little bit about how we can improve the ability for you to connect.

Yeah, and I know that we’re getting busy and that’s one of my biggest things, you’re busy and trying to drive the team and drive results and then can you don’t even think about “Am I connecting?” You think I’m just, I’m talking. You think you’re communicating, you think you’re connecting, but I think it’d be a good place also to remind our listeners that if you don’t know the full story of the Five Levels, please go to Episode 1 of this podcast series and you can hear the full description. But Chris, maybe give us a little catch up on just Level 1 and Level 2 so we can set the stage for this discussion.

Yeah, Level 1 in the Five Levels of Leadership is really all about position and this is where people follow you because they have to. We talk about this level being a title that the organization gave you and so you’re honored enough to receive that title, but people are only following you or you only have influence — we kind of interchange those words often — but because they have to. And then Level 2 is really the permission level where people begin to follow you because they want to. John does tie the word relationships to this level. And today I want to challenge us to even think about that deeper. And it’s really more, it is about relationships, but it’s more about the ability to connect with those that you lead so that they want to follow you.

So previously, we’ve spoken about values and how your values as a leader really drive your behavior and your behavior really gives people around you a pretty good idea of whether they’re going to follow you and give you that permission as you just said to influence them. And so why are relationships with people in our circle of influence so important to the Five Levels? Yeah, in the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John talks about this and I think this is so for us to understand and we can all probably relate to this because we can all think about a leader that maybe did this or didn’t and you need to understand that people are going to buy into you, into the leader, into the man or the woman or the individual before they buy into the vision. And, and that’s what you have to create. You have to be able to allow them to connect with you so that you have that energy from them.

There’s a difference, right? As I mentioned, we’ve probably all have worked for leaders that we didn’t connect with. They didn’t connect with us and we didn’t give them everything we had, right? We didn’t give them all the energy that we had. And then on the vice versa, there’s the opposite side of that, as well. So we just need to keep that in mind about buying in. They’re going to buy into you as the individual before they buy into the vision of what you, your team or the organization is trying to put in front of them.

And you know, I think about one of our outcomes, we say it in every podcast is about increasing your ability to engage your team and employee engagement is such an issue for many corporate situations today. I know in the engagement circles talking about employee engagement, they really talk about discretionary effort and that every employee has the ability — they come to work, you’re paying them to do a job, but they have a little discretionary effort. Things that they hold back and that they’re really going to give if you connect with them and they feel valued and relevant to what you’re doing. It really unlocks these keys to engaging the workforce to their fullest I think.

Real quick, before we go on and talk a little bit about this, I know you shared this illustration and I’ve done it as well with some of the organizations I’ve been a part of, when you talk about the ability to connect, it’s more than just communicating with people and you share an illustration about 10 people on a boat and rowing. Talk a little bit about that as far as just the ability to engage with your team and what that might look like because there’s probably individuals that are listening to this today that as you talk through the story — because I know that I do it as well —  they’re going to probably envision their team and it probably looks a lot like what you’re about to explain.

Yeah, I saw that. So some research that was done. Anybody listening can see that on Youtube despite looking at who’s in your boat and who sinking your boat. You can look at those. But it just really struck with me that the boat had 10 heads in the boat, looked like a canoe, and it said the average research said that the average 10 person team, that with engagement to the way it is today, globally, that three people were rowing with you. Five people had the oar across their lap watching the scenery go by and two people were actually trying to sink the boat. I thought, oh my and people and I tell that in an audience and I show the picture from the survey. Everybody laughs and then I said, it’s pretty funny until you think about your boat, and this goes back to what we’re talking about. I thought it was perfect for setting the tone between moving from Level 1, what do you think people are doing at  Level 1? Are they rowing with you? Pretty much watching with this oar across their lap and then when you’re watching their rowing, when you look away, they’re watching, but how can I make more people row and that’s where it connecting and values and all those things out there.

I had somebody when I was sharing that story just last week in an organization, someone said they’re doing more than just the five that have the oar on their lap. They’re doing more than that. And I was like, what is it? And they said that they probably have their phone out and they’re probably texting or they’re on Instagram or Twitter. I was like, you’re right, I’m going to use that so you can use that moving forward. One of the guys told me, I want to report that everybody on my team is rowing — just not all in the same direction.

I thought, okay, there is another issue we could talk about this. I don’t even know where we’re going. They’re just rowing. Yeah. And so to bring it back to what we were talking about, the ability to get them to row is the ability to connect with them. I mentioned early on, John said in that book that he wrote, the ability to connect is not just about small talk and building relationships because some of us are not naturally wired that way, but it actually can be a skill set that can be developed to be able to connect with your team. I’m really interested now with your experience in working with organizations worldwide, what kind of the strength and struggles about this connecting as you said, it seems like it’s natural, but it does take a little bit of intentional effort. What have you found that the best connectors do?

I had somebody who asked me a question and they said, hey, as a leader, what is one area that in general, you see people need to improve as leaders in corporate America? And I actually talked about being curious and talked about the fact that man, you have to just have a drive and a passion to have curiosity. And the way to solve that if you have that is through asking questions. And I told this individual, I said, man, challenge yourself to be more curious about everything around you in any situation. Ask two questions before you even make a statement and be just be curious to understand the perspective of others around you.

And I love that. And it almost just like curiosity is a skill. My rush and the hurry of business and time constraints that I tend to be less curious than I should and it really opens a door for conversation. I was reading research that a guy in the UK had done and he said that it really came down to that people are interested in three things and if you stay on those three topics, you’ll really connect with them better. What are the three things? Themselves, their victories and their challenges all start with “their”. Then I thought if I’m talking about me then I’m not even in the top three things that they’re interested in.

So that got me thinking about, it goes back to Dale Carnegie winning friends and influencing people. There’s the really ask good questions, talk about the other person and really speak to connecting.

Yeah, and you know, even in the Five Levels Workshop where we spent some time around this as helping individuals that have a natural bent towards Level 3 production, we’ll talk about that in another podcast, it is a skill set that you can develop. So we talk about three different levels of questions that you can begin to have and have in your tool belt to be able to use. But, the key for me is when you’re asking those questions, is that they have your full attention. If I’m just being honest, don’t do that very well during the day and I definitely don’t do that very well at home at night. As a matter of fact, I think my wife just told me that the day I know you hear me but you’re just not listening to me.

And so as a leader you need to understand that there is a difference and that you need to be listening intently with them. The other thing is one of our other master facilitators that does a lot of corporate work for us, Greg Kagel, introduced me to a small coffee table book the QBQ, the question behind the question. John also wrote a book called Good Leaders Ask Great Questions. The more you can become a good question asker, if that’s the right way to say it, the more curious you’ll be, the more understanding you will be. And then it comes back to the ability to where you will then begin to connect. And you won’t just have three people rowing.

And I really liked that and I like what we teach in the class — the Five Levels of Leadership class — that you got to be a little more intentional about your questions. I found that for me, it opened my eyes to was I was asking very surface questions. I realized I get very little time with my people one on one. I get very little time. If you look at the scope of a week, it’s very little. And so what am I asking him about — the ballgame over over the weekend? How did the Braves do or what’s their college team? Those are all interesting ways to start, but John always says, get intentional about that. And can I begin to ask questions about things that motivate you? Could I even be more intentional and ask questions that uncover what you value? I’m thinking of when you think about uncovering what somebody’s motives are, what somebody’s values are, what does that do for your ability to connect and value others and drive you to Level 2?

Yeah, it reminds me of a great little exercise that we do with some of the organizations that we work with around values cards to your point, right? We’re moving from these surface level connection questions to more value questions. And you go even a little bit deeper than just, man, what are the most important lessons you’re learning right now? What do you value most about your current role? All those things. You know, it reminds me even a little bit of an exercise that we do with organizations around Level 2 in corporate America is we’d take them through a values cards exercise and we begin to discuss what do those individuals value. And we move them from kind of a surface level question to your point, you know, hey, how did little Sally’s soccer game go, and, although that’s important and at times you want to be able to use that, it’s really more about getting a little bit of a different level of question and you begin asking some things around what they value.

As a matter of fact, I’ll share a little story. One of our team members told me the story and it is very powerful about understanding and connecting and motivating some of their team members around what they value. We did this exercise, then it comes down to where we kind of force feed them into their top five values. And of the top five values of this individual that one of my colleagues was working with actually happened to be money and wealth. And it’s something that he wanted in one of is values and it kind of shocked my colleague a little bit that that was in his top five values. But here’s the power of being able to truly connect and lead and motivate by using the QBQ technique. That little book I told you about question by question, he knew that was one of his values that came up, but he wanted to know more and he was curious because he was a little shocked, right? But a little curious. So he began asking questions. And so the individual said, man, why that’s important to me, why value that is because you know, I want to make sure that my wife can stay home and be a good mom to our kids. I want to make sure that when Easter comes around, we have the ability to buy an Easter dress.

And so what was he telling him that his number one value was? Family.  It wasn’t money, but his understanding was money. And so if my buddy was leading him to what he perceived and wasn’t curious about a certain value, he would have been leading him the wrong way. And so it’s just the power of being able to understand people’s values and then be able to be curious enough to ask the right questions to get to the root of truly how to connect to people.

Well, it’s obvious to me that the more I connect, I understand your values, what motivates you. I do this through great questioning. It really opens the door to increasing my ability to influence and increases my ability to engage the team and increases my reputation as the leader. If I know you, I know how to position you in the business, it really adds to your feeling of value in the organization. It just really begins to, as John will talk about in Level 3, about building this positive momentum. But as we begin to wrap this up, I also want to look at what do you think the greatest area of struggle that you see when it comes to connecting with others at Level 2?

Yeah, I think two things come to mind right away. Number one, it takes time. Right? And the last thing that any of us want to do is figure out how we’re going to carve more time out of our daily schedule. The other thing is, I think as a leader, you have to become vulnerable, right? And, you have to be able to have this communication which is a two-way pathway back and forth, and as a leader, you have to be authentic and vulnerable with them in order for them to do the same back with you and not have those surface level questions. I was talking a little bit about just a minute ago.

It makes me think back to I think Harvard Business Review did a study of the top 250 CEOs around the world and they were looking for the common attributes of the leaders and what were they, what made them successful, and they came back with a list of 18. Do you know the number one on that list was authenticity? And so as a leader, you’re not only going to take time to be able to begin to connect, but you got to be authentic about it and you’ve got to be transparent in order for it to really work.

I’m little embarrassed about how I learned that in my early leadership journey you know, you’re the leader, you kind of put on that you’ve been on, you’ve been here, I’ve done this, I’ve got it, I’m in charge. But I noticed that nobody was telling me any bad news. Nobody was bringing me any problems. And I also noticed that at home that my son, being a teenager at the time, never had any challenges. It was always good, everything he’s telling me. I’ve been a teenager and I’ve been a sales guy. It isn’t all great. So why is nobody telling me the other part? So, my son got tangled up in something and it was a bit of a setback for him. And I asked him, why didn’t you bring that to me? He said, well, it’s just hard because you’re so perfect and I don’t want to come and you know, I’m not perfect. I said, I know it’s difficult. Actually, it broke my heart. I thought, what have I done? I’ve made it look like I’ve got no mistakes. I never did this. I never have a challenge. And it was that authenticity. I had a mask on at home and at work and I thought, what if I had just started confessing and sharing my setbacks and sharing my challenges with people. Would that open the door to open communication? And it really did.

Now my son and I talk on a different level, my team at work, talk at a different level because they know that I’m not perfect. I’m authentic. We all have challenges. Now let’s talk about them together. Could we grow and develop together and made that connection even stronger. John says go ahead and admit your faults to your team, right? Because they already know, right? And he says, and when you do that, they’re going to behind your back go “Oh my gosh. Look, Perry finally realized what we’ve known for a long time about some of his challenges or weaknesses by being vulnerable.”

I remember that guy stand up and say you expect me to confess my mistakes to my team? And John said, well, they already know you have them. They just want to know that you know you have them. That’s pretty good. So any other struggles that you see with folks?

I would just know it takes time and then you have to be vulnerable and that comes back to that authenticity. The other thing I would challenge as we kind of move towards wrapping this up, is just make sure that, that you are empathetic with them. You know, they are real people and they put their pants on just like you do every morning. Just make sure you’re empathetic with them, know that they have real issues outside of work. Right? Everybody’s got a story. Make sure that you understand that and just try to be objective. Try to be the most objective person in the room, in a conversation and in a meeting in order to, to be able to connect. Right?

You know, it’s funny, the team that did the research on the canoe, on the boat, on the engagement survey, did a follow up in 2017. You can also find that on Youtube. It said the number one skill of a high engagement leader. And I was floored. I read it, I read it again, it said empathetic empathy was the number one skill, but an empathetic communication style. And you just hit that right on the head. So wrapping it up, how about a call to action for our listeners? Anything you’d like to challenge us with?

I just want to challenge everybody is listening to make sure you’re intentional about asking questions. We’ve talked a lot about that today and the power of asking questions. Have a hunger to be curious, right?

So be curious, ask intentional questions. And then, John says, at this level right here, he sees leaders do three things really well. Listen.  We’ve talked a little bit about that today, not just hearing but listening. He says, listen, learn, then lead, powerful statement. If we could all just do that. He says the other one is observed well. He said that’s not what they say, it’s what they’re showing you. Make sure that you’re doing that. You can connect that way. And then finally, man, just serve well, right partner together and you will be amazed at the amount of people in your boat that will begin rowing if you just do those three things.

Fantastic. Well, thank you, Chris. That’s all the time we have today. So until next time, keep developing your influence, so you can be a true Level 5 leader.