What is the Key to Leading People?

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I was struggling to engage the audience. Okay, forget struggling — I was dying onstage. Maybe I was having an off day. Maybe they were having an off day.
Or maybe it was the fact every one of the 100 people in attendance was a CEO, an executive, or the owner of a medium to large business, which meant they were way more accustomed to being listened to than they were to listening.
So I took a shot. “In one sentence, what is the key to leading people?” I asked.

Throwaway question? Sure. I knew no one would answer. That was the point. They would sit and stare and I would offer an intentionally against-the-grain answer intended to spark some heat and conversation. (Yeah, I know. But remember, I was dying.)
So I asked the question and paused to read the room. Some people looked down. Some looked away. Just when I was about to speak a voice broke the silence.
“I think I know,” a man said. A few heads turned in his direction.

My head turned too. I was a little surprised and a lot concerned. Shoot, I thought, now I’ve stepped in it. He’s going to whip out some leadership cliché and I’ll have to scramble to recover from the dead end I just created.

So I was only half-listening as he said, fairly quietly, “No one cares how much you know until they first know how much you care about them.”
Wait — what?
“Could you please repeat that?” I said.
By now a number of heads had turned in his direction. “We think we have all the answers, and maybe we do, but that doesn’t matter. No one cares how much you know until they first know how much you care about them,” he repeated.
He took the ongoing silence in the auditorium as disagreement.
“No, really,” he said, sounding more confident. “Yeah, we’re in charge, we talk about targets and goals and visions… but our employees don’t care about that stuff for long. We can try to communicate and engage and connect all we want but no one really listens. They just smile and nod and go back to doing their jobs the way they always do.
“Our employees don’t really care about what we want them to do until they know how much we care about them. When employees know — truly know — that you care about them, then they will care about you. And when they know you care, then they will listen to you… and then they will do anything for you.”
Best answer ever.

by Jeff Haden