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Gentleness First

My 2-year-old son was playing with plastic hangers in my closet. As is frequently the case with hangers, the more he manipulated them the more entangled they became. He kept working at it, and was partially successful at unhooking and separating some of the hangers.

There were two remaining hangers that stubbornly refused to work with his little fingers and I could tell he was getting frustrated. Wanting to teach him about perseverance, I encouraged him to keep trying.

I could see that his problem was easily solved by simply pushing the hangers gently toward the wall. Instead, in his frustration, my son looped his arm through one of the hangers and pulled with all his might. The result was a broken hanger and a big surprise as he plopped to the ground.

People are like hangers. The more we seek to manipulate, pull, and coerce those around us the more our relationships become obstructive and entangled.

As leaders, we often imagine that our main responsibility is to produce something, or make a department run well, or be able to provide all the answers so that others know what to do and how to do it.

While that is definitely part of our role, the real reason we are leaders is to coordinate and inspire people. What is the best way to do that? Simple - build relationships.

Relationships cannot be forced, but rather gently acknowledged and built over time. Here are some easy and natural ways to grow relationships with your team:

  • Ask people on your team how their weekend went

  • Remember their daughter’s dog (or insert situation here) is sick and ask how that is going - it’s ok to keep notes on these things so you are prompted to remember

  • Give everyone on your team the ability to talk with you directly and privately by setting up 20-minute walking meetings where you ask how they are doing and let them talk (or not)

  • Ask brief, open-ended questions like “What are you currently excited about?” and let the conversation flow (or not)

Sometimes all it takes is a relationship perspective to be able to step back and give a gentle nudge forward to solve what seems like a knotty problem. That is much preferred to being surprised that you’re suddenly on your backside holding a broken hanger.

People are your best and most remarkable asset. Be “with” them gently in the small things and they will help you achieve incredible things.

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