Being a leader who is a people person means caring about people and connecting with people. Caring refers to the empathy and love that motivates you to engage with others in the first place, and connection refers to the human link that you create with them. Both are important, and together they keep your focus in the right place: on the people you serve. Be aware that it is possible to connect with people without caring for them. Leaders can be skilled at appealing to the desires, dreams, and motivations of their followers and be self-serving the entire time. But leaders who connect without caring are engaging in manipulation, not servant leadership. Leaders who know how to rally the troops and motivate people but who do so without the best interests of their followers at heart aren’t truly good at leading people—they’re just good at using people. It took me about an hour to sit down and map out a route, identify good places for clues and write out the hints for each place on my treasure hunt when I set it up.
On the other hand, leaders who care for people but who don’t connect with them will find it difficult to build forward momentum. These leaders can have the best intentions; they can know what people need; they can desire to make a difference in their world—but if they can’t build bridges to people’s hearts, they won’t be able to lead them or influence them toward a common goal, which is the essence of our definition of leadership. Both caring and connecting start by deciding to be interested in others.
They are not personality traits or magical gifts that you either have or don’t have. They are a choice, a conscious effort to bend the arrow of your focus outward toward others rather than inward toward self. How are people around you feeling? What do they need? What are they afraid of? What are they hoping for? What drives them? What excites or discourages them? What are they good or bad at? Where do they hope to be in one, five, or ten years?
As a leader, nothing brings me greater or more lasting joy than seeing people engaged, growing, safe, and fulfilled. Leadership that forgets people is leadership that has disengaged from the very reason it exists. That kind of leadership can’t thrive or last, because people are the reason, the means, and the goal of leadership, all in one. What you and your team build together matters, but the team of people doing the building matters more. People—in and of themselves—are the point of leadership.
Having good people skills is not the same thing as being skilled in public speaking, knowing how to lead teams, or being the “life of the party.” Those things are more about commanding the attention of a group, whereas being good with people is about your ability to interact with individuals. That should be good news if you’re an introvert, because you don’t have to light up a room every time you walk in—you can just focus on serving people one at a time. In fact, sometimes I think loud people (like me) actually have to work harder at this because we can hide behind charisma or persona in social settings and rarely talk to individuals on a heart level. People skills require more than just interacting with individuals, though. You have to be aware of the effect your interaction is having on the people you are with, and you have to make that effect as positive and healthy as possible. It’s been said that people will forget what you say and do, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. They might call it your vibe, your energy, or something else, but what they are referring to is what they feel in your presence. Leaders with great people skills know how to add something to the people they connect with by encouraging them, praising them, serving them, or helping them in some way.