By Renee Jensen
At one of the hospitals I served as CEO, I brought in an executive coach to work with our senior leadership team. At the end of our time together, the coach complimented my team, saying it was one of the most high-performing groups he had ever worked with. I was shocked.
In retrospect, I truly believe the reason for our ability to perform at a high level was our deep trust in one another, established through a genuine desire to know and care for each other.
Be a leader, not just a boss.
I lead through making personal connections. Leaders truly care about the people they work with; bosses simply get the job done. While I recognize that everyone has their own leadership approach, I like to get to know the people I work with and grow to genuinely care for them. I want to learn what they’re passionate about and what their interests are outside of work—not simply so I can leverage that for the good of the organization, but for the sake of my team knowing they are respected and seen for who they are beyond the job.
I like to schedule time for my executive team to get to know each other outside of the work environment. Sometimes that involves food and drink. Other times we do an activity together like golfing, hiking, or exploring the community. The point is to find something that can give your team a chance to get to know each other on a more personal level. When you get to know someone beyond just what they want others to know, or how they want to be perceived, you can start to notice other’s personalities and idiosyncrasies. This creates a more tolerant work environment. You are less likely to take things personally or get offended when you trust someone’s true intentions.
Creating personal connections between your team members requires you as the CEO to be vulnerable yourself. You have to open yourself up and let people in. Many leaders aren’t willing to take that risk and cross interpersonal lines. While it is certainly true that some people could take advantage of your openness, when you choose vulnerability, your team has the opportunity to more deeply understand your intentions and vision, and can provide better support for the long-term goals.
Build a foundation of trust.
The goal of creating these personal connections is not to make you and your team best friends. The goal is to build trust. When challenges come, your team will have a deeper level of trust than teams that don’t place a high value on vulnerability and just functionally work together. Because your team has taken the time to develop genuine care for each other, they can move forward together, knowing the other members of the team have their best interests in mind.
Trust is the foundation of all high-performing teams. When you, as the leader, are pushing hard for challenging goals, it’s not easy on the team, and times can get tough. If they are confident that everyone has the same goals and intention, they can stay focused and support each other. This is when it matters that your team members are more than just colleagues. Because you, as the CEO, also approach your team with vulnerability, they will be comfortable enough to question a decision or direction and feel safe about approaching you. This will sharpen you as a leader.
Additionally, when CEOs take the time to study their team members’ real, true strengths and passions, they can look for ways to give them projects that align with those strengths and passions so they can continue to grow professionally, and become better leaders. When employees feel recognized for what they uniquely bring to the team, the work they do will reflect their highest capabilities.
It takes more energy—and more guts—to truly get to know your team than it does to just make sure the work is getting done. So many executives are conservative with their emotional energy, but I believe that investing in personal connections with your executive team will, in turn, develop high-performing teams that strengthen the entire organization.
Renee Jensen is a healthcare executive leader with over 19 years of experience in public hospital district operations and integrated healthcare systems.