Hello is one of those words where a change in pitch changes definition. It can be a warm invitation to a new relationship or a cold indication that you’re too busy to talk. When you begin a leadership position, you only get one opportunity to say hello and most leaders, overwhelmed with their new responsibilities, say hello in the wrong pitch: “Nice to meet you but I’m too busy to talk.”
As a young Army leader, I frequently moved from one leadership position to another and searched for a way to forge strong bonds in a hurry. Over time, I developed a new way to say hello that reduced the time it took to get acquainted with my team and discover what made them tick.
As I entered a new position, I would schedule a two-hour, private meeting with each of the people I evaluated. Prior to the meeting I would ask them to come prepared to share their life story and some insight into their leadership strengths. For some sharing their story was easy, for others like pulling teeth, but for all it left no doubt I was interested.
I came to listen and took detailed notes. Once we got going, I would only speak to request clarification, make a connection with my own story, or emphasize a priority. For many, it was the first time a leader had shown a sincere interest in their personal story and professional development.
Those ice-breaking sessions were time consuming but set the tone for enduring relationships. My willingness to listen in that initial meeting served as a warm hello, demonstrated my interest in them and offered an invitation to a relationship based on trust and candor. It also helped me assign work to people with the right aptitude or passion and helped me recommend books, assignments, or experiences that might improve their individual development. In the end, it was a discipline that helped me lead better.
When we start a new job, our first inclination is to prove what we can do–to jump right in and make a difference. Still, as leaders we are not judged by what we do but by what we get others to do and it’s hard to lead others when we’re too busy to get to know them. So before you begin your next leadership position, consider how you say hello.