Naples, Fla. — Just like a plant moves toward the sunlight, humans are "drawn to people who make us feel good," Harry Cohen, an executive coach, said at the Plastics News Executive Forum.
He gave pointers on "heliotropic" leadership — the word comes from the world of plants — in a keynote speech to kick off the forum.
"We're the leaders. Set the tone and the culture, and people model it," he said.
Being authentic and showing real vulnerability are important in opening doors to employees, Cohen said.
"You're looking for opportunities to be more kind as a leader," he said. "People love to be around kind people and kind leaders."
Performing a genuine act of kindness gives a boost of dopamine and oxytocin to you, the person on receiving end — and even someone witnessing it, he said.
Cohen runs a management consulting firm in Ann Arbor, Mich. He advised plastics executives to "create a great environment where people like to be there." That results in lower turnover, better financial results and a higher level of customer loyalty, he said.
A lot of it is common sense. Say please and thank you. Smile. Feel gratitude. Giving a "job well done" message in person, not via email.
But Cohen said you can't fake it. "The tiniest little things go a long way especially when its genuine," he said.
And talking to someone while your cell phone sits on the table in front of you "is like having a gun on the table," he said. You may not even look at it, "but just having the phone in front of you indicates you're not paying attention."
Cohen also said forgive, and embrace, mistakes by employees, since that is how people learn.
And he said company leaders also should be able to forgive themselves. "Cut yourself some slack," he said.