If You Want To Inspire Humans, Don’t Act Like A Machine

by Michael D. Hume, M.S.

It’s snowing in Colorado, so I’m on a plane, off to my California home for a few days. Today’s forecast high in Palm Springs is about twice what we’re expecting in Colorado. Can I just mention how much I LOVE owning a portable business, and the freedom it gives me to follow the sun?

Before I took the opportunity to bring my business home, I spent a lot of time on airplanes and in hotels. Last night we were cruising through the cable channels, and decided to watch again the George Clooney flick, “Up In The Air,” and I was reminded of what that lifestyle was like. I love to travel; but having to travel can become exhausting. It’s a blessing to be able to travel when I want to, instead of when (and where) I have to.

Re-watching the movie, though, reminded me of what a solitary life some business people lead. George Clooney’s character has constructed a lifestyle that shelters him from any “real” human connection, let alone deep personal relationships, and his inner debate over that lifestyle choice is what the movie’s really about. I know a lot of business people with whom that story would resonate.

Over the past several years, it’s been my privilege to coach some of the world’s brightest business talents. Before meeting my clients, I typically have a chance to read a little about them – curriculum vitae, profile, feedback they’ve received from others – and it has often struck me how little personal information many of them make available, either to me or to their own clients and customers. It’s almost as though some of them have adopted a personal brand of “Nothing Personal,” or “Business Robot.” And when clients like these ask me how they can become more inspirational as leaders, this is one of the first things we work on.

It’s personal.

Now, sometimes the reluctance to blend business life with personal life is a cultural thing. Many Europeans, and notably Germans, generally tend to keep some separation between the two parts of their lives. But it’s been my observation that these cultures are changing, and those business leaders who put themselves out-front in the move toward more personalization of their business relationships are, in many cases, getting ahead of their competitors (very helpful in tough economic times). And that’s even more true in cultures where some personalization has always been expected.

If you’re struggling with mixing your personal and professional selves, try some simple moves. First, ask people “how’s business.” But separate yourself from others who ask such questions by really listening to the answer you get. If the answer’s brief, probe for more. Importantly, train yourself to listen not just to the facts, but for the client’s “personal” interpretation of those facts – in other words, find out not just how business is, but how your client feels about how business is. And react to both the news and the opinion – it’s a great opportunity to share with the client just a little bit about how your business is going, and (here comes the personalization) how you feel about it.

Sounds simple, and it is. But you’d be amazed how often really bright business leaders fail to do these basic things to build relationships with their clients.

The story’s been told many times within one of my client organizations of the senior consulting partner who was known for holding hard-hitting progress reviews with his clients’ executive committees, always on time, and always as scheduled. Just as one such important review meeting was beginning, he received word that his wife had been injured at work (thankfully, it turned out not to be serious). For the first time ever, he started the meeting by ending it, explaining to his colleagues and clients that he had to go to the hospital at once to be with his wife. And then he walked out.

His colleagues and clients were stunned. Not only had he never postponed a review, he’d never mentioned anything about his personal life to anyone – ever. Most of the attendees had been unaware that he even had a wife! But here’s the kicker: the CEO of his client organization later told him “You know, I’ve relied on your professional advice for more than a decade – but I never really TRUSTED you until that day. Finally, I knew you had a pulse.”

It’s a simple lesson, and you’re never too old (or too important) to learn it. People trust people they know, and they trust those who can somehow come across as a “business casual” person regardless of how they’re dressed. If you want to develop more inspirational leadership, think about how you’re sharing your true, personal self with your clients. You may have to lead with business solutions, sure, but don’t forget to have a pulse. After all, do you want your clients and customers to trust you, or simply plug into your knowledge and download it? Isn’t the relationship more important than the business problem you’re solving?


 Michael Hume is a speaker, writer, and consultant specializing in helping people maximize their potential and enjoy inspiring lives. As part of his inspirational leadership mission, he coaches executives and leaders in growing their personal sense of well-being through wealth creation and management, along with personal vitality.Those with an entrepreneurial spirit who want to make money “one less thing to worry about” can learn more about working with Michael at http://www.caym.tv/18812Anyone wanting to jump-start their vitality can browse through the best (and most travel-friendly) nutraceuticals on the market at http://shop.enivausa.com/239824Michael and his wife, Kathryn, divide their time between homes in California and Colorado. They are very proud of their offspring, who grew up to include a homemaker, a rock star, a service talent, and a television expert. Two grandchildren also warm their hearts! Visit Michael’s web site at http://michaelhume.net
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