With all the finger-pointing and name-calling going on in Washington these days, it’s hard to believe a delegation of kindergarten teachers from Dubuque hasn’t arrived to put an end to the nonsense. But no. The blame game goes on and on and the government stays shuttered.
And meanwhile, the people watching the story play out – and, we would say, especially leaders in business – might be missing the most important lesson of it all.
You have to schmooze.
Clarification: You have to schmooze early and often. You can’t suddenly burst out of your office to build relationships when you hear rumbles of trouble from down below, and it’s certainly too late by the time a crisis flares. No, schmoozing has to be what you do all the time as a leader; it has to be a massive part of your job. Walking around, having a coffee, sitting and listening, getting real, letting people get real with you. Showing who you are, what you care about, exposing your hopes and dreams and values. Asking people the same about themselves.
Building — in two big fat words — trust and transparency.
And look, we’re not talking about the standard, ho-ho-ho kind of social schmoozing you do with your customers and your team and your boss. That’s easy. That’s like President Obama schmoozing with Nancy Pelosi, or John Boehner schmoozing with Eric Cantor.
Leaders have to do something harder and more essential; something that can feel awkward at first. You have to schmooze with your known “adversaries” too, say, for instance, your union, or the group of employees who hate your new strategy and want the old one back. The resistors that exist in every organization. The perennial naysayers. Smart and annoying. Them.
Because if you don’t schmooze with friend and foe alike as a leader, unpleasant or wildly inefficient as it may seem, one day a crisis will come and, without thriving relationships and ongoing dialogue, it will shut you down, be it in the grand corridors of Capitol Hill or over in the three cramped rooms you call headquarters.
Here’s an example of what we mean. Throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, GE was plagued by strikes. That changed in the ‘80s when the senior team made it a priority to meet with the unions at every possible opportunity. The idea was to create constant, candid dialogue about values and goals, treating union leaders with the dignity and respect they deserved, whether it was at the plant or national level.
There wasn’t a strike at GE for 21 years. Did that mean management and labor suddenly started to see eye-to-eye? Hardly. But where there had been suspicion and wariness, there now was transparency and trust. No more “first dates” every three years, sitting grimly across from each other at the bargaining table. Schmoozing had smoothed the way.
Now, we’re not Luddites. We love dashing off an email and texting can’t be beat for efficiency. Y call Sally abt her promotion when u can just send a 🙂 ?
But the day Sally has a bone to pick with you about a new initiative or a promotion she didn’t get – and she’s ready to start building a coalition around her position – a 🙂 isn’t going to cut it. She needs to have seen you smile in person, and heard your voice and mind – and you need to have seen and heard and known her too.
People will always have legitimate differences. What’s happening in Washington right now is, underneath it all, based on them. But for leaders, the building of transparency and trust is what makes those differences negotiable.
It turns foes into friends with different opinions.
Bottom line – build trust and be authentic. Do what you said you would.