It is not often that we look to royalty for insight into how
to demonstrate leadership in the modern age. So in our age of egalitarianism Queen
Elizabeth II of Great Britain stands as an exception. To overlook her ability
to connect with people would be a shame. Wherever she visits she gives leaders a
tutorial in how to make everyone she meets feel special.
in reporting on the Queen’s visit to the United Nations, Richard
Quest, CNN’s U.K. reporter, commended the Queen for her extraordinary ability
to make anyone who comes into contact with her feel quite at home. Quest
experienced this first-hand when he welcomed the Queen to the dedication of CNN’s
London studios in 2001. The Queen is not only able to make small conversation,
says Quest, but she backs it up with a smile and eye twinkle that makes the
person she is with feel special.
This ability to make people feel important is not solely a
royal prerogative; many great leaders from Winston Churchill (who was Prime
Minister when the Queen ascended the throne in 1952) to Franklin Roosevelt and
Ronald Reagan had the gift of connectivity. I have seen corporate leaders
connect in similar ways. And in conversing with folks afterward I know how
special it was for them to be treated in such a personable manner.
The advantages of such up close and personal relations are
two-fold. One, it makes the listener feel that he or she is worthy of
attention. Two, it opens the door for conversation where a genuine exchange of
ideas can occur. Granted this will not occur with royal schmoozes, but it can
happen when CEOs or department heads make time to chat. So here are some
suggestions for making it happen.
Smile first. The
one with the bigger title must make the first move and the first move is to
smile. Look like you are happy to be where you are, even when this visit is
your tenth of the week. The act of smiling is way of putting others at ease.
Know what the issues
are. People on the way up are often flummoxed by conversation with senior
executives. In reality it is a two way street; more than a few executives have
no idea what to say to front line employees. So it is important find out what
the employees are concerned about and have a conversation about it.
Engage. Act, (and
yes it is an act of leadership), like you want to be with the person. Put
yourself into the conversation. Listen to what the other person has to say. Ask
one or two open ended questions that get them talking. When done with a smile
and cheery demeanor, you can do it quickly and without offending anyone.
Truth be told not every person in a position of authority
knows how to make others “subordinate” to him or her feel welcome. More than a
few leaders I know are quite shy and so hiding behind a wall of reserve comes
naturally to them. Their standoffishness is as much a defense mechanism as
anything else. Too many in the corporate world have risen to the top because
they are good at tasks not with people; and so when they are in positions of
senior leadership they lack social grace.
There is no excuse for acting aloof. Holding yourself apart
from others sends the worst kind of signal, the one we typically associate with
most royals. That is, I am better than anyone else. Such a sentiment might have
worked for Elizabeth’s ancestors, but it simply will not do in today’s age.
John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2010 Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s top 25 leadership experts. John’s new book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up (Amacom 2009). Readers are welcome to visit John’s website,www.johnbaldoni.com