Have you ever wondered what creates a good leader? Is there a set of formulae that you can refer to when developing your leadership qualities? Well, there might be, but I’m quite sure leading by formula won’t work for most people. So how then to great leaders come about? How do they bring people together to work together cooperatively, which is essentially the role of a leader? It pretty much all comes down to one thing: Trust.
We as humans are social beings, and whilst we may have already heard this before, what does it mean? It means that in order to survive as a species we’ve had to develop biological mechanisms of trust that allow us to thrive in community. Strength in numbers is only real strength when those numbers are working together towards a common goal. Such unity is only built through trust – it can’t be ordered or dictated, and it can’t be faked.
There are a few select things that build trust. One is self-sacrifice through the spirit of generosity. Another is physical touch.
The thing about touch is that we have perpetuated the dangerous belief within society that touch is bad and to be avoided in any arena other than intimate relationships. And this is wrong for many reasons, but mostly because it violates our deepest biological systems for developing trust. How can we trust people we’ve never touched? The answer is you don’t really ever trust people you haven’t touched. It simply cannot happen unless they’ve gone so far as to give up their life for you.
An example that you might be able to relate to is when you meet someone for the first time and all you do is wave at each other…Isn’t it the most awkward thing that leaves you feeling like something is just “off” about the other person? Well, no offense, but I can pretty much guarantee that they feel the same way about you – and it’s simply because you didn’t shake hands, or give them a hug. The pleasantries were not skipped per se, but the physical contact was our opportunity to develop trust and that was definitely skipped.
On a biochemical level, each time you make physical contact with someone Dopamine is released. Dopamine is one of the “joy hormones” and part of its role is to develop deeper bonds with people; more solid connections. Another really unique aspect of touch is that there is an enormous amount of information conveyed through even a single second of contact. To the point where you can almost immediately tell when someone is being disingenuous when they touch you (if they touch you at all), or if they’re overjoyed, sad, angry or any number of emotions. So touch also shows you the truth – even/especially when words aren’t. And when we are given the truth we are given the opportunity to trust more deeply.
What does this mean within an organization? As soon as we trust our leaders, we feel safe, and such safety means that we no longer have to direct any energy and time towards self-preservation and watching your own back. If you know your boss has your back; if you know your team has you covered, your organization becomes stronger and you can direct more of your energy into your work. We also have a far greater impact when we work collectively and cohesively towards a goal, which is only possible once you trust your colleagues and leaders.
In essence, touch boosts your productivity, not by putting time constraints and deadlines on your colleagues, but by building a sense of trust, community and deeper bonds to your company and those involved in it. It makes people feel as though they’re a part of something big, a part of something good, and when you feel that way you’re far more likely to get the job done more efficiently, with less procrastination and with more joy!
So how then, can we use touch to become a better leader? (And this doesn’t simply apply to work – leadership is a lifestyle choice). Here are some simple and appropriate ways to incorporate touch into your leadership style:
- Greet people with touch – in the morning go around and make contact with your team. A pat on the shoulder, a handshake, even a hug – it makes people feel immediately welcomed and connected. This goes for the workplace as well as everyday living.
- Congratulate with touch – it could be as distanced as a high-five or as close as another hug, but make sure to celebrate their wins and reinforce their wins with touch.
- Support with touch – as a leader there will be times where you have to lift your team members back up, or work through a tough situation with them. A simple hand on the arm or shoulder conveys far more compassion than words ever will.
Of course we need to be sensitive and communicative around positive touch in the workplace – but I think we all understand that. One other thing to note is that you should always try to frame any talk around touch in a positive light. Don’t make a joke about the no-touch rules – there’s no need for it to be an act of rebellion instead of compassion.
Develop stronger leadership simply through touch.
If you liked this article you might like to check out our latest E-Magazine issue on Touch & Leadership, or our other posts called “Developing Fluency in the Language of Touch” and for more on the deep biological need for touch, check out “Touch: The Most Ancient Language“