04 Oct The Best Professional Advice I’ve Ever Received: “Be More Human.”

[Enjoy watching the 108-second video or reading the 7-minute article.]

Think about your last performance evaluation. What sticks in your memory? Do you remember the energizing pluses or the dreaded minuses?

Let’s flash back to 2010 for a moment. It was the day of my annual review as a General Manager of the Wisconsin Athletic Club. For the first 58 minutes, things were positive and uplifting. I felt confident and on top of my game. For the last 2 minutes, after I expressed a strong desire to be promoted, not so much. My bosses remarked, “If you want to move up in our organization, you need to learn how to be more human.”

Outwardly, I initially acknowledged them by nodding my head and acting as if I understood what they meant. Inwardly, I felt dejected and thought to myself, “What the heck are you talking about? I AM human! Whatever.” It took every ounce of my energy to not get defensive. My blood was boiling, and I wanted to quit.

People before Process

Thankfully, I paused and inquired, “Can you explain what you mean by that?”  I braced myself and heard them say, “You are one of the best we’ve ever seen with systems and processes. However, we want you to slow down a bit, so that you can connect more with others. Think people before process.”

They were right! I was valuing process over people. I had exhibited growth but wasn’t going to go anywhere without making relationships my top priority. Have you ever gotten mad at a manager who offered you constructive or critical feedback, only to realize later just how helpful and essential that feedback was?

Why Do So Many Leaders Forget that They’re Human Beings?

All I could think about as I drove home from the meeting were the similarities between my performance evaluation and my prior career while working in basketball operations. I could vividly recall that during my days in basketball, I had watched some coaches walk into the office and not say hello to anyone. When this happened, I would ask myself or my colleagues, “Is Coach in a bad mood? I have a meeting with him in an hour and I’m worried that maybe he isn’t happy with me.” Then I told myself that one day when I was in his position, I was never going to do that.

When I pulled into my garage, I wondered if I was becoming the type of leader that I had gossiped about years ago. My instinct was to tell myself I was better than that, but this type of behavior change is actually not uncommon. According to the Power Paradox by Dacher Keltner, once we have power, we can lose some of the capacities we needed to gain it. Bottom line — I needed to unlearn being a manager and relearn how to be a better human being.

The Universal Issue: “I Don’t Have Time to Connect”

I know what you’re thinking. Connecting and being more human sounds great, but you’re so busy. Reality check: During my pre-event speaking surveys, 100% of my clients have had at least one employee submit to me that they don’t have time to connect. What we don’t realize is that we can’t afford not to make time.

“Why Do You Say Hi to Everyone?”

Not too long ago, my daughter, Ellie, came to visit me at work. On our way out, she asked, “Dad, why do you say hi to everyone? You have so many friends here.” Ellie answered her own question. Just Google “Harvard 75-year Study on Happiness.” The key to health and happiness is good relationships.

For some people, you’ll stay at the hello phase and that is ok… you might be the only person in the world who says hello to them. For others, you’ll create a deeper relationship… you might find out that they have no family and you will be the one who listens to them talk about the Packers or celebrates their birthday with them.

Pause and Reflect

How much time and energy will you spend working this week?

How much time and energy will you invest in relationships this week?

Want to Be More Human? Start with Hello.

Since that eye-opening performance evaluation, I’ve set a daily goal to walk with my head up and to say hello to as many people as I can every day. To do this, I had to stop hiding when I saw people I knew at grocery stores and coffee shops. I had to stop faking phone calls to avoid conversations with certain colleagues who I saw walking toward my office. Do you ever intentionally try to avoid people?

“Do You Want to Go for a Drive?”

Think back to when you were a kid. Before technology, I remember when my mom and dad would ask me, “Do you want to go for a drive?” That was it… “go for a drive.” At the time, I didn’t understand why we did this. I finally get it. We went for a drive to connect.

I remember driving with my parents to the Manitowoc car ferry parking lot to simply watch the ferry depart. I remember driving with them to Dairy Queen, parking, and eating our ice cream together in the car. We were never in a rush. These days, much of our society is simply “too busy” to just go for a drive.

You Can Learn to Be More Human

I think that we all need a modern version of going for a drive. When you get to work, could you walk through the office or factory and acknowledge your colleagues before getting to the nuts and bolts of your day?

I believe that I have learned how to take the time to connect with people and make better relationships, and I’m certain that you can, too. It doesn’t take as much time or effort as you would think. Seriously, simply start by walking with your head up while making eye contact, and saying hello to everyone you meet. It works! Over the last decade, I went from avoiding people and unnecessary interactions to taking on our company’s “human” resources.

Today, take some time and just “go for a drive.” Never underestimate the power of intentional and candid personal connections. People matter, always.

ACTION: Think about people you’ve walked by numerous times but have never said hello to or introduced yourself to. This week, slow down, say hello, and introduce yourself to at least 3 of those people. Make yourself available and open. You might surprise yourself with the impact that those few interactions have on yourself and others.

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