We communicate with people all day long. However, if we want to have influence with people and lead them, our communication must look different than what we use in other settings.
“Leadership really depends on our relationships,” said Richard Stup during a Cornell Cooperative Extension webinar. “You have to have a relationship if you want any chance to lead and influence people.”
Stup heads up the Cornell Agricultural Workforce Program, and he discussed how leadership is important for dairy farmers managing employees. Engaging with your team is the most effective way to correct issues and provide positive or redirection feedback, he said. To develop relationships that facilitate leadership and coaching, we have to consider how we are communicating with those around us.
Stup described a concept from the leadership expert and author Stephen Covey that every relationship we have with everyone we interact with has an emotional bank account. “We can fill that up or keep a very low balance,” Stup said.
Just like we make deposits and withdrawals of money at our bank, our actions with others contribute to the health of our employees’ emotional bank accounts. We can make deposits into those accounts by doing things like keeping promises, listening well, being loyal, taking time for small acts of kindness, setting clear expectations, and making sincere apologies when we make mistakes.
All of those actions can build what Stup highlighted as the three major factors of a healthy relationship: trust, respect, and fairness.
On the other hand, we withdraw from the emotional bank accounts of those around us by keeping distance due to factors like personality or language, not listening, spreading gossip, breaking promises, exhibiting arrogant behavior, setting unclear or false expectations, or distributing rewards or justice unevenly.
These behaviors break down employees’ trust of you, their respect toward you, and your credibility to them. “If employees don’t trust you, they’re not going to follow you,” Stup said simply.
Why does the status of these emotional bank accounts matter? Just like having some reserve funds put away provides you more cushion in case of something unexpected or unpleasant, building a strong relationship gives you as a leader more support if you have to give a person some constructive feedback.
“If you have someone with an overdrawn bank account, it’s going to be a lot harder to make that correction,” Stup continued. A strained relationship means the employee is less likely to want to believe in and implement what you are asking.
In addition to the “deposit” actions listed above, Stup described that we can build up the bank accounts of our team members by being visible to them and friendly. Pay attention to your body language, he noted. Are you always rushing around, appearing too busy for anyone to come to you with a question or concern? Try carving out part of your day to be available to talk to your team and let them know that. Walk around the farm, see what they’re doing, and make yourself accessible.
If there is a language barrier, it has to be overcome, Stup said. Bring in a translator or learn phrases when possible. “Employees still respect it if you give it a try,” he encouraged.