It seems like social media is increasingly blamed for a lot of things, from causing a deep distraction to creating empty relationships. But sometimes, social media is precisely what brings us back to what really matters: human connections.
Six and a half years ago, my husband and I went on a trip to New Orleans with my parents to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. We spent some time with a man my father had mentored more than 50 years earlier named Ed. Fast forward to today and my dad has been dead for almost two years. Out of the blue, Ed posted a lovely message in response to a Facebook post about my children.
I thanked Ed for his message and his response stopped me in my tracks. “Your dad was a great man, and his spirit lives on in those whose lives he touched. He told me that he used to ask you and your siblings, ‘What did you do today to make the world a better place?’ I adopted that practice with my kids, and three out of the four now have careers that that serve the common good.”
I don’t know if Ed and I will ever have a conversation in person again, but this interaction reminded me that even passing encounters can have a huge impact. Ed’s observations didn’t only remind me of my father’s tremendous legacy, but that taking time to notice what’s going on in other’s lives is part of what makes a great leader.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking— an executive taking time out to comment on family photographs probably won’t impact their bottom line. That’s probably true. But when we as leaders take time out to comment on a photo of someone’s child or notice that they appear to be under the weather, we’re doing more than sharing an opinion or probing for information. Reciprocity also begets reciprocity.
When people feel seen— when they feel that someone is paying attention, even for just a moment— they are more likely to open up, extend their trust, and feel a sense of commitment to the person who has reached out. When leaders take time out to be present for their employees, the impact may be even greater.
There is a growing body of research that suggests a majority of today’s employees feel disengaged. When asked why they don’t feel engaged at work, most employees say the same thing: They don’t feel respected by senior management or they don’t feel that their ideas are valued.
In my work with senior executives, I’ve discovered that this realization often comes as a surprise. Leaders are simply shocked to discover that their employees don’t feel respected or valued. Many of them even realize that they’ve spent little to no time engaging directly with their employees (the larger the organization, the more likely this is the case).
So just as my father used to ask me daily, “‘What did you do today to make our world a better place?” I encourage the executives I coach to ask themselves, “Who did I take time out to connect with today? What did I learn? How might this impact my future interactions with them?”
The best part: It takes as little as a few seconds a day to connect.