by Robert A. Olszak

There is one profound truth that cannot be denied – leadership is about people. Without people there is no need for leaders. Without leaders there is no need for followers. I don’t care what type of business you are in; all leadership is about people.

If we can agree on this point, leadership is about people, than we should be able to agree that leadership is about relationships. People cannot be led unless they are prepared to connect. If you charge up a hill and no one is following behind you than are you really leading?

For all the mistakes I have made as a leader in the past twenty-plus years, failing to understand the value of people, their importance over my own hard work and the strength of relationships to success is the worst. It was my greatest sin as a leader. Forget leadership, it was my greatest sin as a person.

Individuals were commodities, a means to an end, part of the process and nothing more. Wrong! Who thinks like that? Who can afford to think like that and call themselves a leader? By definition, anyone with this flawed attitude is anything but a leader. I hate to admit it but I will confess over and over again that I was that guy. Being that guy, I struggled more than I should have. I fought constantly, I was stressed all the time, I hated my job, I couldn’t stand the people I worked for – they were all sabotaging me. It was me against them every day.

Are you in this position now? Do you feel the same tensions with your workforce? Are you losing influence as a leader? If you are answering yes to any of these questions than you need to practice Leadership over Coffee: it is the simple practice of developing casual conversations outside or inside the workplace to get to know your employees.

When you sit on one side of the desk and they sit on the other, immediately you are creating a barrier. There exist an implied hierarchy and regardless of what you say, it is almost impossible to connect in this manner. Now contrast that scene to one with a team member sipping coffee in a relaxed environment; all titles stripped away and it is just you and them in casual conversation – now you are getting somewhere.

Don’t be the stuffy boss that walks around with your nose pushed up, your chest bowed and the arrogance of your title announcing your entry into the room before you arrive. Lose the pretentious formalities and just be the person that your team relates to; the person that they would want to have coffee and a conversation with.

Leadership is not this complicated system of algorithms. The truth is real leadership is about relationships. Show people you care, take an interest, be authentic, show sincerity, invest in their growth, be available, share of yourself and most of all own your mistakes. The best thing a leader can say is, “Sorry.”

Here are some suggestions for building and strengthening relationship to enhance your leadership influence:

#1: Be dependable and do what you say you are going to do. Let your team know they can count on you.

#2: Be approachable and relatable.

#3: Give respect before you can expect respect.

#4: Listen without judgment and seek to understand before responding.

#5: Be opportunistic, not taking advantage of people but seizing opportunities to connect and grow with your team.

#6: Be loyal and committed; always present in the moment.

#7: Learn to laugh at yourself. Having a sense of humor is a great way to break down walls and build connections.

#8: Communicate openly, honestly and consistently.

#9: Practice makes perfect, begin by nurturing your relationships at home.

#10: Find a common connection, work at finding shared interest and values than build upon them daily.

Think about having coffee with your best friend. What does that image look like? Picture your body language. Imagine what you would talk about. Are you sharing coffee in a Barnes & Noble tucked away in a quiet corner or hanging out in front of a busy Starbucks? What are the emotions shared between you and your friend? As you think about what this will look like, pay attention to every detail. Paint the picture in your mind and save it someplace where you can call upon it quickly.

Now, go lead like you are having coffee with a friend. Be that person first. Focus on the relationships and the influence will follow. I promise you, once you have your team recognizing the value you see in them; they will eagerly line up in single file to follow you. Leadership will become more meaningful, more efficient and you will yield greater results with less effort.

Leadership over Coffee worked for me and it will work for you too.

Robert A. Olszak is a leadership expert and business consultant who has written many good articles. You can follow him on twitter or visit his website at RobertOlszak.com.