Before You Make a Difference, You Have to Make a Connection

It’s confusingly simple. Your team’s culture leads back to the efforts, actions, and behavior of one person; the manager. Forget about strategy, comp, perks, awards, and flexible work hours. To create healthy, enjoyable, relationships, a rewarding career, a purpose-driven life, a remote team of thriving, happy, quota-crushing champions, and, dare I say, world peace and equality – it’s all about connection.

I was sitting in a hotel restaurant having breakfast and preparing myself for a day of back to back meetings. While I was working on my phone, a waitress came over and introduced herself.

“Hi, I’m Maya and I will be your server this morning. May I get you something to drink?” she inquired. We’ve all heard this question a thousand times when dining at a restaurant. But for some reason, the way she asked me was different. “Let’s start out with some coffee and orange juice,” I said. “Great!” she replied enthusiastically. “I’ll get that for you right away and will be back to take your order.”

“That’s what it was!” I thought to myself. She was smiling. “Big deal, a smiling waitress,” you may be thinking. “Waitresses are supposed to smile. This doesn’t sound like something that’s so incredibly noteworthy.”

Normally it wouldn’t be, but this smile was different. You see, it wasn’t like one of those smiles you’re forced to put on when talking with customers, but a truly authentic smile. I could tell because it was coming from the inside.

This woman was genuinely happy. “Okay, duly noted and dismissed.” I acknowledged the observation, yet felt compelled to get back to my e-mails and texts as quickly as possible, before the coffee and food arrived.

Maya returned a few minutes later with my beverages and took my order. “Another text out and 20 more to go,” I thought. I had just hit the Send button on the fourth text I managed to respond to before someone else came over to my table and began talking to me.

Who you are is always more important than what you do. Rather than letting your ego drive you to focus on how you’re better than, less than, more of, or different in comparison to others, let your authentic self find the similarities that connect us.

“Good morning!” a friendly voice said. This time, it wasn’t the waitress, but someone else who worked at the restaurant. A middle-aged woman had intentionally stopped at my table rather than continuing to walk by. I returned her smile and wished her a hearty good morning as well. I wanted to get back to my texts. Apparently, this was not part of her agenda. She didn’t let me.

“I love your glasses,” she said.

“Thank you,” I answered quickly, doing my best to be polite while trying to let her know I was a bit busy, knee-deep in my daily dose of morning tasks. “Couldn’t she see I was working?” I thought to myself.

I sensed myself getting a little annoyed that my daily regimen was being disrupted, then challenged that feeling for a moment. In a world where we need to question people’s motives, was this person being truly sincere? I gave her the benefit of the doubt and began to further engage her in conversation. She had made herself more comfortable, leaning next to the booth beside me, obviously eager for a conversation with me.

Before you seek to serve, you must seek to understand.

“So, are you here on business?”

“Yes,” still convinced I could cut this conversation short, until she formally introduced herself and proceeded to talk about her children. When that happens, my heartstrings are immediately pulled to the three most important priorities in my life; my three children. I can’t help but be interested.

“By the way, I’m Tracy. I manage this restaurant. Where are you from?”

I put my phone down, surrendering to Tracy’s persistence in wanting to have a dialogue. “New York.”

“Oh, what a fun place to visit. I have two girls. It’s my youngest one who goes to college out east. She’s in her second year at Cornell. We had a chance to go into Manhattan when we were visiting her at school.”

“My oldest daughter is about to graduate from UCLA and has already started the job interview process.”

Tracy continued, but with a different tone in her voice. “It is so tough out there to find a job that you not only love to do but can make a good living doing it.” I could not only hear the concern in her voice but I could see it in her eyes: the concern and protective instincts only a mother could project when loving, worrying, and caring deeply and unconditionally about her children.

At this point, my phone was back in my pocket, and I was practically ready for my second cup of coffee as Tracy continued telling me about her kids. Tracy had enrolled me in a conversation with her, but it was more than just a friendly exchange of words and pleasantries. Tracy and I were connecting.

To experience a greater sense of purpose, passion, happiness, and feel that you’re making an impact, stop focusing on yourself and focus solely on others.

“I just don’t get it,” Tracy shared, allowing her frustrations to surface. “These particular companies want to hire someone with a great education and experience. But other than holding some entry-level positions or finding a great internship, where are you going to get the experience if you can’t get an opportunity to learn on the job and prove what you’re capable of doing? They all say she has what it takes, except the experience.”

I looked Tracy in the eye and said, “Tracy, I completely understand how you feel. However, I want you to know, your daughters will do just fine. They’re not only going to make it, they are going to thrive. I know it.”

My comment must have reinforced or reminded Tracy about the peace of mind and confidence she always had in her kids. “Thank you, Keith, but how do you know they’ll be just fine? How can you say that with such certainty?”

I smiled at Tracy and asked her a question I already knew the answer to. “Tracy, are your children anything like you?”

She thought for a moment and smiled, “Why, yes, they are very much like me. My husband says they get their drive and bubbly enthusiasm from my side of the family.”

“Tracy, your daughters are very lucky to have a mom like you. And if they sell themselves, that is, come across the way you do and share who they are authentically and naturally, people will notice the gifts, value, passion, and talents they can bring to any position they apply for.”

“Oh, you are so sweet for saying that. Thank you.” Tracy’s response was heartfelt. I could tell that she really listened to what I said and took it in rather than hearing my observation on a superficial level and dismissing it.

Tracy and I continued our discussion for another few minutes until she got called away by the hostess to handle an issue with another customer.

I turned back to finish my breakfast. It had cooled off since the waitress came by and served it during the time I was talking with Tracy. But it was worth it. Yes, I made a difference that morning in someone’s life.

Be careful not to step over the seemingly, often insignificant daily miracles you create. Sharing your authentic self, and making others feel valued, heard and understood makes this wonderful human connection that becomes the ultimate gift you can give to others.

As Tracy walked away, I glanced around the restaurant. Now that I was out of my head, or should I say, out of my phone, I started noticing more of what was happening around me than I had when I first walked into the restaurant that morning.

I took a visual inventory of each person working in that restaurant. It was not just Tracy and Maya who were smiling. Everyone who worked there was smiling. The two hostesses at the front entrance were smiling, even if there were no guests for them to greet at the moment.

Every busboy, waiter, and waitress were smiling, whether they were taking an order, serving a meal, dealing with a difficult customer, or walking back to the kitchen where nobody could see them (unless you were like me and were purposely looking).

Everything is relevant and every conversation you have is of vital importance. Even though some may seem trivial to you, each is deeply influential when compounded over time.

Making an Impact

How does my experience apply to your ability to become a great leader and coach? Think about the restaurant experience with Tracy at the helm. She was the manager. She set the tone. Tracy was the one responsible for developing the atmosphere within the restaurant, which was a by-product of the culture she promoted within her team. This, in turn, created the positive experience every customer would leave with after dining at Tracy’s restaurant.

The atmosphere, tone, and culture created within a company lead back to the efforts, actions, and behavior of one person—the manager.

Before you assume you can’t make a difference, before you conclude that you don’t have the personal power or confidence to influence and contribute to others, before you think that you still need to prove yourself or your worth, think about Tracy. Here’s a manager who makes a difference every day with the people she meets.

Not because of her experience or her training. Tracy makes an impact on people because she does something that other people, more specifically, other managers, are not willing to do or care to do: establish an honest, authentic connection with people. This is why I knew Tracy’s kids would be fine.

Leaving Your Legacy

What’s your #1 priority? People or Results. Choose.

The experience I had with Tracy, a restaurant manager, made me think about the other managers I know. Interestingly, the one thing I rarely, if ever, hear from their team is how much they’ve loved their prior managers.

Think about your career and the path you’ve traveled, which brought you to where you are today. Reflect on the managers you have had in the different positions you’ve held. Now, ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Is your manager the first person you go to for coaching, career guidance, and advice, both personally and professionally?
  2. How many managers have you had that inspired you and supportively challenged you to be the very best version of yourself so you can realize your fullest potential?
  3. How many managers have you connected with on a deeper, personal level outside of what needs to be done to maintain your sales numbers and achieve your business objectives?
  4. Do the connections you have with your manager(s) foster loyalty, trust, transparency, unconditional support and a mutual respect?
  5. How many managers have truly changed your life and career for the better and as such, are unforgettable?
  6. How many prior managers do you still maintain a relationship with?

If you want to make a difference; a positive, influential impact that can be felt and measured by your team, start by caring enough to coach and connect with your people.

Establishing a common ground and sharing personal experiences foster a deeper connection, leaving people with the feeling, “We are the same. He really understands me. I feel acknowledged, listened to, understood, and valued. I trust them.” Imagine what would be possible if you created this connection with every person, at work, at home?

Before you can make a difference, you have to make a connection. The most effective way to make a connection and inspire others to achieve more than they ever thought was possible is by sharing yourself, your humanity, even your vulnerability with others.

Consider this. The choices you made yesterday created your life and legacy you have today. The choices you make today will create the life and legacy you want tomorrow. And the great news is, it’s your choice to start today.

* Excerpt from Coaching Salespeople Into Sales Champions

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