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Brain circuits

How leaders can improve their connections

Published 14 January 2022 in Brain circuits • 2 min read

Some people have the gift of sparkling wit, others have great curiosity and intellect, while some are naturally great communicators. Ideally, these are all things you would like to see in a leader, but most people don’t naturally have this host of skills. Sometimes, even great leaders need to refine the way they interact with others. The good news is, if someone is willing to learn, this is not hard to do.

An introverted leader may not realize that they are alienating their teams by not taking time to connect. Sometimes when leaders are pulled in many directions, they may bypass small talk because they are short on time. But small talk and other interactions that show you care about people are often what makes employees feel valued. It’s important to not brush these interactions off as a waste of time, but rather consider them as critical as talking about the objectives you have for your company.

There are a series of actions leaders can take that will facilitate connections with employees including the following:

Commit to starting meetings with a personal check-in. If this is normal for you at every meeting, you don’t risk coming off as brusque or too important to show you care about employees.

Intentionally ask people how they are doing and wait and listen to the answer in both one-on-one meetings and informally.

Smile. This can be a hot button issue, especially for female leaders who are often told to smile while men are not, so it is advisable to not suggest it to your leadership team. But you yourself should consider whether you regularly display positive emotions and smile when interacting with people. This small action makes a substantial difference.

Say hello. Again, this is a very small thing, but if you find that you are passing coworkers in the halls and not greeting them, chances are you are probably not giving them a great impression. Be conscious of things like this and make sure to nod and say hello to literally everyone you encounter in the office.



Michael Watkins - IMD Professor

Michael D. Watkins

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at IMD

Michael D Watkins is author of The First 90 Days, Master Your Next Move, Predictable Surprises, and 11 other books on leadership and negotiation. A Thinkers 50-ranked management influencer and recognized expert in his field, his work features in HBR Guides and HBR’s 10 Must Reads on leadership, teams, strategic initiatives, and new managers. He taught at Harvard, where he gained his PhD in decision sciences, and INSEAD before joining IMD, where he directs The First 90 Days and Transition to Business Leadership programs.


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