Leadership by Geoff Colvin

Building the (workplace) ties that bind

November 30, 2010: 3:00 AM ET

Consultant Pontish Yeramyan on how you can make your workers more productive by opening up a little and letting them see the real you.

Interview by Beth Kowitt, writer-reporter

Creating connections with employees might sound a little too mushy for most bosses. But don't dismiss the idea just yet. Bonding with your workers doesn't just mean a healthier office environment, it also leads to better results, says Pontish Yeramyan, founder and CEO of management consultancy Gap International. "The more connected one is to people," she says, "the more willingly and rapidly they'll do things because of the relationship." Employees are more likely to take on risks and bigger challenges if they feel as if their boss knows and understands them. "Oftentimes people think they need to distance themselves because it's not good to be close and vulnerable," says Yeramyan. "Those days are gone." Here are her tips on creating what she calls "affinity" with employees.

Pontish Yeramyan

Say things that are hard to say

It seems counterintuitive, but it can instantly bond people. We worked with a leader who was impatient with her team members when they did things that didn't work. She would ignore what she didn't like or she'd snap at them. They felt attacked, and she was frustrated, creating a disconnected and unproductive environment. She learned to deal with problems without blame, saying things like "I'm sure you didn't mean to have that impact" before talking about performance. While it might be hard to hear sometimes, her employees get that she cares.

Be interested, not just interesting

We know an executive who had inherited a legacy team, some of whom fit her standards of attitude and performance and some of whom did not. She was selectively interested. This created divisiveness and some jealousy. Once she started showing a personal interest in every single person on her team, she became more accessible. The result was that they were able to bond with her and give their best performance, both individually and as a group.

Open up first

Assume that by virtue of your being a boss, people are already guarded and worried about what you think of them. Ease that tension by sharing things about yourself. That means speaking from the "I" perspective -- how it is for you. One CEO we work with is loved and respected. When he talks about growth, he explains what he's working on for his own development -- that he needs to be more expressive and demanding -- rather than talking in a sterile and objective way. It lets his employees see him as human and think, "I can be real because he's being real."

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