One Person at a Time

My favorite work as a leader is the time spent one on one, digging deep, helping to bring out the best in someone. The other fun part is motivating large teams toward a vision and strategy to get something important done. And then there is the in-between.

What I find most difficult as I have assumed larger roles with bigger teams is the strong desire to connect one on one, and the almost impossible task of getting to know everyone in a large organization to the depth that I would like. I do my best to be as fully present as I can in each encounter, but it can be tough to do this well. Intimacy is hard to scale.

One Person at a Time

This challenge hit me in the face this week.

Intimacy is hard to scale

I was talking to an extended member of my team who does important work in my organization hundreds of miles away and a few levels down the org chart. I had not seen him in about 6 months. He said to me, “Karin, I think about what you said to me every day.” Oh boy, I smiled and waited. It turns out that once he reminded me of the challenge I had given him, I recalled the entire conversation, including exactly where we had been standing at the time. However, if I had been really on my game, I would have had immediate recall and perhaps have even been the first to bring it up.

I was so pleased that the conversation had helped him, and so disappointed in myself for the lack of proactive follow-through.

Time Well Spent

As timing would have it, the next day I walked into my office to find the very large stack of books I had ordered to give away at an upcoming summit I was hosting for some of my team. My intention was to inscribe them with a personal messages for each team member. That seemed like a good idea weeks ago, but now with literal wildfires burning in the West, and other emergencies that were consuming my day, it seemed like a daunting task.

That evening, I dove in and was surprised to find that what had felt like a difficult time-consuming exercise turned into a calming and useful experience. Somehow, moving deliberately through the team, one person at a time thinking about each person very specifically and the gifts they were giving, felt magical to me. Time melted away in a peaceful meditation. I left that night feeling tremendous gratitude for the people in my organization and their contributions to the work and to one another. It also became obvious to me that I knew some folks much better than others, and had much work ahead of me to be an effective leader for them.

Can intimacy scale? Tough question. There are certainly ways to be completely present in our relationships even in a large team setting. And, of course ways to do better with follow-up. I also found value in thinking quietly about each person one at a time, and seeing what surfaces.

Would love your comments and ideas


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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

9 Comments

  1. In the Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner tell how a district manager at USPS sends a personalized birthday card to over 13K workers throughout the year. He knows everyone’s birthday and maps out his “signing of the cards” schedule in advance.

    Touching one persona a day by phone or in person is doable. Getting to know each one on a personal level goes a long way.

  2. “If just one person believes in you, deep enough and strong enough, there’s bound to be some other person who thinks, if they can do, I can do it. Making it two whole people who believe in you. And when two people believe in you, there’s bound to be some other person who believes in making it a threesome. If three who people why not four? And if four who people, why not more, and more, and more?
    It’s amazing what just one person can do.” ~Snoopy

    Always try to bring out the best in someone, and believe in them. You never know what one good deed can turn into.

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  4. this reminds me of assigning comments to each of my students when i used to teach public high school. the grades are easy, just a matter of inputting the average. but the comments, they can be tricky. you get to think about each student, to remember what they were like that quarter, to replay and appreciate their many qualities and characteristics. Even with 100+ students it was important and powerful to go through each one and think about their performance and personality.

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  7. Great lesson in balance and whats important,we will never be free from all the fires which easily hold us hostage day/day. Our teams will always be our most valuable resource knowing who they are really sends a positive powerful message.

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