Ever walked into a gathering, a spin class, a team meeting, a yoga class, a conference, or a workshop, only to find everyone standing around in silence, looking at each other awkwardly?
Whether we are leading a running meet-up of 5, or a conference of 5005, there are a few simple yet powerful things we can do as organizers, teachers, leaders, and facilitators to be more effective leaders and to increase the enjoyment and the outcomes of the experience for everyone involved.
1. Say Hello.
This sounds painfully obvious. And, I find that way too frequently, it simply doesn't happen. As an organizer of a group or the leader of a course, part of our role - whether we like it or not - is to hold space for the participants who are in attendance. A simple "hello" or "welcome" can help to break the ice, create conversation, and make people feel safe and welcomed into the experience you're leading.
2. Introduce Yourself.
I know, I know. This sounds almost as painfully obvious as #1. But it's often absent. If you are teaching people something, leading an experience, or even just bringing people together in service of a cause that all of you care about, introducing yourself is important. This initial level of connection matters. And it sets the foundation for everything that follows. Before we attempt to learn anything, we must first get into relationship with each other.
3. Remember that It's Not Actually About You.
While the teacher, leader, instructor, or organizer has a large impact on the experience, the experience isn't actually about the teacher, leader, instructor or organizer. The experience is about the participants. And as leaders - of whatever we are leading - we must remember this.
I stopped going to spin classes for a long period of time due to my annoyance with the number of spin instructors who seemed to follow the same process of: walking into the studio, hopping on the bike, blaring the music, pedaling as hard as possible while simultaneously spewing commands, and never once stopping to acknowledge (or seemingly recognize) that there was actually a room full of participants filling all of the stationary bikes in the studio.
As leaders, it's not about us. It's about the people we are with. We must remember this first.
4. Remember (or at least try to remember) People's Names.
I will never forget a small tragedy that occurred many years ago, when I took a team member onsite to meet one of my most beloved client teams for the first time. This was a client I had worked with for many years, a client that felt like family to me (and still does), and a client that had been a great partner to our organization in many ways.
Despite extensive coaching and discussions with this team member before we arrived onsite, when I began introducing him to my beloved client team, he tuned out, and when I finished the introductions, he immediately replied, "I'm never going to remember your names anyway." In that moment, I knew that I would never bring him onsite to visit my client again. It wasn't that he couldn't remember people's names; rather, it was his blatant disregard for trying.
On the flip side, I was visiting with a client a couple weeks ago, leading a presentation during their annual retreat. Over lunch, I was talking to one of their regional leaders about what it's like to work for this particular organization. He shared his experience of joining the organization, after coming from a large global bank. "There", he said, "everyone was anonymous. Here, Our CEO says hello to every single person in the hallway by name. That is why I love working here."
Much has been written over the years about the power of remembering people's names. If you struggle with memory, here are some tips on how you might improve. And I believe that at the end of the day, it's not as much about your memory as it is about your willingness to connect in a meaningful way.
5. Connect To Your Passion.
Hopefully, if you're leading something - whether a running meet-up or a two-day leadership conference - it's because you care about it deeply. Typically, when we lead from a place of passion, we are wildly effective leaders. When we get lost in the land of logistics, performing, or over-analyzing how the experience is going, it's easy to become disconnected to that passion.
Before leading anything, take a couple minutes to connect to your "why." Why are you doing it? What do you most love about it? And how do you want to hold and honor that "why" as you're leading the group?
As I always say, leadership happens in the moments: the moments where we say hello, the moments where we pause to introduce ourselves, the moments where we connect with the others in the room, and the moments where we allow ourselves to show up authentically in service of the stuff we care about deeply.