A Curious Voicemail From a Highly Effective Leader

One morning I received a peculiar voicemail from a coworker, Tommy. His message simply said that he needed to touch base. He offered no other details. Though not an executive, Tommy was one of the most influential leaders in our company. He had broad respect throughout the organization. He related well to people of all statures and responsibility levels. He was a strong and highly effective leader.

I had been in a meeting with Tommy much of the previous day and guessed that his call had something to do with that discussion. So on my drive to work, with my bluetooth headset in my ear—I hope my wife reads this to see that I am behaving safely as I agreed to—I gave Tommy a quick call back.

"Hey, Tommy, it's Spiker. Got your message. What's up?"

Tommy said, "Well, I just wanted to check in on something. Yesterday, when I was joking around with you, I hope you know I didn't mean anything negative by it."

I said, "Of course not. I never thought anything about it except to smile and laugh."

"Well, I just wanted to make sure," he said. "Sometimes you see a look on a person's face and you're just not sure if something is up or not, so I thought I'd check in."

"Don't think a thing of it," I responded.

"Ok. Have a great day," said Tommy.

"You too, friend."

If You Understand Tommy's Perspective, You Understand Effective Leadership

During the previous day's meeting, a colleague of ours shared a uniquely worded comment that struck Tommy's funny bone. Tommy, who had a confessed habit of getting words mixed up from time to time, used the moment to poke a little fun at me about the complex vocabulary I occasionally use. I would not have even remembered the exchange had Tommy not asked me about it. But he did, and that's the point.

Tommy thought he saw something odd in my expression and he followed up. He simply wanted to make sure that, in the process of having a laugh, he hadn't hit a nerve with me.

How many times, especially in business environments, do we check in as Tommy did? Or do we talk ourselves out of making such a call, telling ourselves it was nothing or that the other party will bring it up if it's a big deal?

It was a seemingly small gesture, but, in truth, it revealed what made Tommy such an effective leader. Though he was extremely busy with many people demanding his time, he prioritized checking in with me. If he had put a negative divot in our relationship, he wanted to address it right away. Some call this 'keeping short relational accounts.' And it is a sign of both Tommy's wisdom and the value he puts on healthy relationships. With this as Tommy's perspective, is it any wonder that he carries buckets full of relational capital around with him everywhere he goes? Is it a surprise that people find him easy to connect with, respect, and follow?

Becoming Better Leaders If We Care To

Checking in with someone, as Tommy did with me, happens far too infrequently in the workplace. Relationships at work are built the same way they are with our family and friends. Numerous small acts over time build up and tear down our relationships. Somehow we seem reluctant to view our workplace colleagues as real, live people. We are tempted to see the workplace as 'different' and sidestep normal caring and relationship building for more formal means. This reduces our emotional maturity and is a mistake that we, as leaders, should work hard to avoid.

Tommy is a living example of how emotional maturity builds trust. The trust he has within the company is a direct result of who he is as a person, the type of person that would follow-up on even a subtle hint of something potentially negative in a colleague's facial expression. Trust is the currency of great leaders. Garnered through emotional maturity, it plays a major role in making Tommy the highly effective leader that he is.

The next time you have a notion to check in on somebody because of something subtle you've observed, do so. If there's an issue, you can address it. If there isn't, you'll be communicating that you care enough to notice and follow-up. Either way your relationship with the other party wins and you become a more effective leader in the process.

Share Your Thoughts: Has someone in a leadership position over you ever checked in with you just to make sure everything was OK relationally between you? If so, what were the circumstances, how did they do it, and what was its impact on you as a follower?We’d love to hear from you. Join the conversation by clicking here.

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