I get energy from one-on-one conversations most often, and I lose energy from group conversations most often.
— Reid Hoffman, Founder & Chairman of LinkedIn

Intimacy is a word rarely associated with technology or leadership. Yet a technology leader like Reid Hoffman embodies all attributes of a behavior usually associated with couples or parents. In this post, I am going to make a case that those who have the capacity to be intimate have an unfair advantage in their ability to be an enduring leader. In fact, I would argue this is going to be more critical as our economy becomes more driven by technology.

I should clarify what kind of intimacy I'm advocating. Through my own experiences, intimacy usually gets people thinking about sex and I must admit, physical intimacy does enter into my mind when I hear the word, but the kind of intimacy shown by a leader like Reid Hoffman has nothing to do with physical intimacy. According to marriage and family therapist, Angela S. McClean, there are over 16 forms of intimacy. I had no idea there were forms of intimacy like crisis, humor or recreational. We're are going to focus on just one: communication intimacy.

A major part of our job is helping people develop how they think. How they get to an answer matters more than ever.
— Jeff Barnes, Head of Global Leadership at GE


A leader who is most effective at communication intimacy is a person who creates a genuine, highly adaptable and measurable relationship with whomever they interact with. In the book, The Alliance, Reid Hoffman describes the broken relationship between workers and leaders as a result of a dishonest conversations in today's corporate climate. The initial dishonest conversation occurs when a company hires someone for a job and then says "Welcome to the family. We hope you have a long career with us." While the statement is welcoming, it is not honest. Soon after this interaction, the employee finds themselves in an HR office signing an At-Will agreement with a 90-day probation period. Hoffman has referenced how Jack Welch (former GE CEO) used to advocate the "one-day contract." The one-day contract basically said that as an employee you need to earn your spot everyday or risk losing it. This form of leadership and organizational behavior is obsolete and counter productive to making companies more innovative and adaptable. What Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh have recommended is developing a "Tour of Duty" model that puts a structure around the aspirations of both the company and the employee. This is a fixed period of time that is tracked and helps the employee grow toward their desired outcome. The starting point of this concept begins with an intimate question, "What do you want to do when you leave us?" Jack Welch may have had a difficult time asking this question. By embracing a more intimate form of leadership, you deepen the connection with your employees and increase retention of some of your best talent.

I know it’s going to sound like a line, but it’s not. Nothing is more important than the happiness of your employees.
— Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn

Intimacy is a human interaction, but if this type of interaction drives greater adaptability and innovation, then it must be important enough to measure. And "if it gets measured, it get's done" as Simon Sinek says his his book, Start With Why. Here are 3 steps to begin leading your company and your people more intimately:

1. Stop being a leader and start being a steward
A man named Darwin E. Smith transformed the paper company, Kimberly Clark (KMB) as its CEO. He started in their legal division on a $15,000 a year salary in 1958. He planned to leave once he had corporate experience. He stayed for over 34 years. At the end of his tenure, Kimberly Clark had outpaced the market four to one. Doubling the performance of giants like GE. Toward the end of his tenure, he was asked what led to his success. He responded by simply saying, "I never stopped being qualified for the position."

You are a liberator not a dictator. You are liberating the creative and intellectual muscle of your employees and you are liberating the innovative capacity of your company. You cannot do either if you think your way is the only way. You have to start with intimately knowing your people (who they hang out with, what their relationships are like, what their children are like, what are their values, what are their current struggles). You will not effectively lead anyone unless you're willing to deeply understand their context.

Keep track of your employee's living diary in an Evernote file or other note taking app. As they share parts of their lives, record them and become familiar with what is driving them and what is worrying them.

2. Form an alliance. Find out what your employees will do when they leave you (As prescribed in The Alliance)
Personally visit or google hangout with each of your direct reports. Tell them that you'd like to learn more about their career aspirations, so you can help them achieve it. Give them two weeks to prepare. Have them write down what their ideal work environment would be, what type of projects they'd like to do and what they envision doing when they leave the company. You must also prepare for this meeting by knowing your own career outline, but truly knowing the companies future goals. Without this, you will not be able to find out if you can facilitate a way to help them with their career. 

When you hold the meeting, reassure them that this is not a performance review and this is not a tactic to "manage them out" of the company. Convey that the company is rolling out a new way to help employees achieve career meaning. Both of you should be taking notes (I highly recommend using Allied Talent on how to properly implement The Alliance framework. Credibility or resentment could ensue if there is not continuity across departments).

3. Let go. Allow your team to drive change and innovation
According to a recent study by the Center for Creative Leadership, there is a decline in heroic leadership and a rise of collective leadership. The example given is how it was difficult for the media to track down a leader for the cause that took down Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak. It was a coordinated community with many figure heads not just one. 

At the University of California at Davis, Andrew Hargadon has been researching innovation. In the last 10 years, innovation has come from a collective group and not a "genius." 

Begin establishing ways for your team to expand and build networks in and out of the company. Have them track and own the building of the networks after you've shared with them the innovation initiatives for the company.

The best ideas start as conversations.
— Jonathan Ive, SVP of Design at Apple

Writers and speakers are not the final word. We are the spark. We believe that change can occur from that spark. It is undeniable that a change is needed in our corporate cultures. A recent study from the University of Manchester found that being laid off from your job can create almost a decade of distrust in a person. I am not suggesting we never let people go, but I am suggesting that a company has a great responsibility to fulfill the career aspirations of their workers. This is about legacy building. You want every person that comes through your doors to feel like they have improved. Whether they stay for 30 years or 3 years.

Increasingly, behaviors like empathy, courage and stewardship are shaping the culture of top performing organizations. Not simply because it is the right thing to do, but it is the right thing for innovation. As a leader, you must stop thinking of yourself as the hero and start thinking of yourself as the catalyst. You are not Yoda! You are not the hero. You are the provider of an open and honest environment galvanized by meaningful progress and adaptive performance. You are also the spark. Your people are the heroes, the Yoda's and the leaders.

Gary Xavier, MBA, PGA is a group cohesion expert, leadership speaker and former Marine Sniper who works with forward-thinking organizations inspire bold leadership. He is the Chief Exploration Officer of The Blade Group LLC, a leadership training and development firm based in Northern California. Gary is a member of the National Speakers Association and the Association for Talent Development. Follow Gary on Twitter @garyjxavier or email him at gary@garyxavier.com