Authentic Leadership Requires Personal Connection

I am always on the lookout for trends and research in leadership and culture. When I’m present (and not buried in getting things done – which is all to easy for me to do), I am able to notice those trends, examine them for patterns, and come to conclusions that advance my learning about leadership and culture.

Two media stories caught my attention recently. The first was a CBS Sports/NFL Network documentary titled, “Tom Landry: The NFL’s Man in the Hat,” on the legendary Dallas Cowboys head coach. The second was a USA Today article on Wyndham Hotels CEO, Stephen Holmes.

The underlying theme in both these stories generated the title of this post. Leaders want to inspire others to meet performance objectives. And, leaders develop work passion among followers as well as high performance if those leaders are authentic and connect with the individual people they are trying to inspire.

Leaders need to BE REAL. Demonstrate authentic consideration of your people, have a sense of humor, and create personal connections that last.

Landry: People are Interchangeable Parts of a Winning System

Tom Landry served as the Cowboy’s head coach for 29 years; his accomplishments include 20 straight winning seasons, five NFC titles, and two Super Bowl wins. His players respected Landry and his system – and many indicated that, during their years of playing for Landry, he was distant and more committed to his system than to individual players.

Two examples from the documentary highlight this tendency of Landry’s. First, all-Pro linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson described Landry as focused on the players as interchangeable parts of the system. Henderson believed Landry never knew of his drug addiction and alcohol abuse. Henderson said, “Coach never asked. He wasn’t interested in players’ personal lives.”

NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach described a tenuous personal relationship with Landry. Staubach, a Heisman Trophy winner, spend 10 years leading the Cowboys – he was MVP of Super Bowl VI. Staubach relates, with emotion in his voice, a telling demonstration of Landry’s focus on the system and NOT the players: when Staubach retired after the 1979 season, Landry didn’t even shake Roger’s hand.

Landry did soften in his later years. Henderson describes being shocked – and pleasantly surprised – when Landry attended Henderson’s 10-year anniversary of sobriety. At that event, Landry took the podium and praised Henderson not only for his football accomplishments but for the courage and dedication required to beat his addictions.

Landry certainly should be celebrated for his team’s accomplishments . . . yet one wonders how much more America’s Team could have accomplished if players felt a personal connection with their head coach.

Wyndham’s Gracious and Welcoming CEO

The USA Today article on Stephen Holmes is titled, “Co-workers praise Wyndham CEO’s welcoming demeanor.” The read opens with a story from three years ago. Holmes was interviewing a candidate for a key executive position. The evening meal ran long (they closed the restaurant) during which it began snowing heavily. They called the car service to take the candidate to his hotel. The car service told them that, due to road conditions, it would take an hour to reach the restaurant. Instead of making the candidate wait in the cold (remember, the restaurant had closed), Holmes offered to take the candidate to his home. The candidate was extremely impressed – and enjoyed meeting Stephen’s family as part of the deal!

Holmes’ calm and friendly approach has served him – and Wyndham – very well in the past four years. People enjoy working for a person who sincerely cares for them, and they love working for Holmes.

Demonstrate authentic leadership by:

  • Taking time, regularly, to personally connect with staff members. Discuss their families, their hobbies, their dreams. You’ve hired smart people with rich lives outside the workplace – connect to the “whole” person.
  • Be real. Let people know what worries you, what excites you. Laugh with staff members (not at them).

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