Coffee, the secret to being a better leader

We’ve heard a lot lately about the link between taking care of ourselves and productivity. The role of diet, exercise and meditation in managing stress and being resilient. All of this is important, but isn’t what I’m talking about.

Recently I spoke on a panel of senior executive women and one of the questions posed to me was, “Tammy, I get that networking is important, but how do you make time for it?” I responded…

“Coffee and lunch are part of your job. Building relationships is the work of leadership.”

This week I had the pleasure of spending time with my colleagues in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Alexandre Marins is a seasoned leader who has worked for some of the largest global companies. He is now an experienced executive coach and heads up a coaching practice in Latin America. He has observed that leaders place so much focus on achieving results, they forget about the relationships they need to realize those results. He said the skills of influence, emotional intelligence and creating alignment between diverse stakeholders are critical to effective leadership over the long term.

None of us can do our jobs on our own. We are interconnected and fundamentally dependent on many people inside and outside the organization. And yet most leaders see building relationships as nice to have, but not necessary.

Here are a couple common scenarios we see. The first is the heads down, get the work done mindset. These leaders squirrel away and only involve others when absolutely necessary. They rarely attend social events or keep a low profile if they do. ‘I don’t have time for that’ is often what you’ll hear from these leaders. The problem with this approach is that they create no influence capital, little profile for themselves or their team, and are often overlooked as serious leadership potential. 

Another is the ‘achieve results at all costs’ approach. These leaders are not afraid to steam roll over others to attain their goals. This involves positional power, fear or back room politics. These leaders get known for achieving results but often creating a wake of frustration, anger and resentment in their path. Ultimately their value is eroded over time as eventually the ‘what’ of their results gets overshadowed by the ‘how’.

Effective leadership today requires a stronger focus on relationships than it did in the past. Connecting with colleagues, direct reports and our boss is critical for execution of goals, being agile, and getting others onboard with change. 

After all, humans make our ability to implement goals easy or hard…and yet we forget to be human!

We forget that by taking 15 minutes over a coffee to talk about someone’s family can make a conversation about competing resources a bit easier later. We forget that understanding the pressures another person is under can help create an approach that benefits both. We forget that sharing a meal and learning about what someone cares about in their personal and professional life will make collaborating on a project that much easier.

Building genuine relationships is not optional. It is not something you do when you have time. In fact, grabbing a coffee and lunch with others may make the difference between your success and your failure. Go book one now. You can’t afford not to.