As employees begin to return to a potentially unfamiliar workplace, or continue to work remotely, leaders need to connect on a deeper level if they are to engage and inspire their people. For class of 2012 alumnus and Coach on Personal Growth & Human Connection, Erik Eklund, interpersonal skills, trust and transparency are now key to business success.
Honesty is a theme that runs through much of Erik’s leadership coaching, and plays a big part in his inspirational speeches. For him, there’s power in being your true self around those you lead, now more than ever.
“In 2021, what I see is a need for leaders to focus on their personal development side, as opposed to their hard skills. More and more I’m seeing the personal approach, especially within leadership, becoming even more significant. The ability to be authentic, genuine, warm and vulnerable in order to engage, inspire and to connect with people, is even greater now because everything is digital.”
”It’s about being true to you. That’s where it starts. And it comes from a question, which is ‘who am I?”
“The more we go online the more we get disconnected, we become avatars, not people. As a leader, you have to develop the skills to actually get through to the person on the other side of the camera. It’s about being true to you. That’s where it starts. And it comes from a question: ‘who am I?’.
“The more you can look into that question, the more you’ll understand what your values are, what you stand for, what drives you, how you get engaged and inspired, and how you can use it to do the same for others. In 2021, there’s a great need for leaders to clarify who they are in order to re-engage their teams.”
Four ways to drive engagement and connection in the workplace
As businesses emerge from lockdown and employees return to the workplace, the once familiar environment and people, may well look and feel very different. As a result, there is a great potential for disengagement to pervade businesses, for Erik, this can be combated by dispelling the personal and professional divide.
Allow employees to bring all of themselves to work
“Being who you truly are is not easy, and especially not when you’re in a professional context, because we’re still asked to separate personal and professional. But when we hide elements of who we are to conform at the workplace, that’s when you start struggling with your identity, with your character, who you are.
“The point of a leader is to enable their team to feel as good about themselves as possible, so that they perform as well as possible. And you can only achieve this if you allow people to be who they truly are in the workplace, enabling them to attach the value they bring to the person they see as them.”
Share feelings, not facts
“A client of mine wanted to guide one of her regional leaders on connecting with her audience. The regional leader had suggested she could show pictures and videos, talk about her family, but my client said ‘no, we need to be authentic, so let’s share feelings’. So instead, she focused on questions like ‘How are you feeling today?’, ‘What do you feel about this idea?’, and allowed people to be openly honest, as in ‘I’m feeling a bit confused’ or, ‘oh my God, it feels so exciting’. When people feel comfortable enough to share feelings, you have their trust and that’s a gamechanger for team success.”
Allow personal expression
“This means empowering employees to sign an email with something else other than ‘warm regards’. Let them write as they speak, not spouting corporate jargon. As human beings, we judge each other and ourselves at all times through our reptilian brain’s desire to survive. The first thing we evaluate is how safe we can feel with one another. That’s trustworthiness, the warmth of one another. If your people feel they are able to express themselves while representing the business, then your team relationships and business will be so much stronger.”
Be transparent and trust your team
“Be transparent about everything that’s going on at work. Involve the people around you, treating the team as a family, a tribe and community, because we don’t grow by ourselves. People who are trusted, and trust their leader, develop greater self-drive and self passion. This is very important and if you don’t support it, you’ll end up like many businesses around the world right now, full of employees feeling burnout and depression.
“A lot of businesses facing this situation retain staff through manipulation, they try to incentivize people – ‘you can have a ping pong table’ or ‘you can have beer Friday’. But this won’t get people wanting to work harder, they’ll only do that when they believe in your vision and feel trusted to bring value by being who they truly are. Achieve this within the people you lead and you’ll be overflowing with ideas, passion and a willingness to help you and your business grow.”
Find out more about Erik’s professional journey to becoming a Coach on Personal Growth & Human Connection and inspirational speaker, and how he recently returned to campus to host a number of Summer Program workshops.