Anytime is a good time for tea

  • Published
  • By Maj. Christine Knieff and Chief Master Sgt. Russ Johnson
  • 86th Maintenance Squadron

If you are a tea lover or have been around the tea culture, it should be no surprise to you when it comes to the social significance placed on serving and having tea. Tea symbolizes hospitality, community, and family tradition. 

Tea connoisseur Mary Lou Heiss once said, “A simple cup of tea is far from a simple matter.”  Having tea can mean sharing joy and sorrow, solving familial or business problems, or simply being present and experiencing life completely. Although a seemingly simple act, sharing a cup of tea is anything but. It is intentionally taking the time to connect and address something important.  

Leading a team can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be complicated calculus formula — basic algebra works fine. Too often we get caught up in thinking we must read the latest leadership books or take courses to improve our organization and personal skills. 

Other times we find ourselves quoting inspirational figures like David Goggins, Jocko Willink, or Simon Sinek to plant seeds of ownership and confidence within our followers so we can see whose eyes light up with bewilderment and inspiration. Even though these resources can provide useful tools and additional insights, they don’t get to the root of connecting with our people. 

One way to make a positive impact and connect with your team is to intentionally give your time with an open heart and open ears. Sitting down to have a cup of tea (or coffee for those who don’t like tea) with someone offers a time to chat, connect, and cultivate trust.  It provides a space in which the chaos can be put on pause, even if it is just for a moment. 

According to the article “Connect, then Lead” from the Harvard Business Review, there is a growing amount of research that suggests the way to influence and lead is to begin with warmth. 

“Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas. Even a few small nonverbal signals -- a nod, a smile, an open gesture -- can show people you’re pleased to be in their company and attentive to their concerns. 

Prioritizing warmth helps you connect immediately with those around you, demonstrating that you hear them, understand them, and can be trusted by them.” 

Thinking back on a conversation I had with one of my Airmen over a year ago -- he told me that he finds it odd when leaders want their Airmen to automatically follow them when those leaders don’t take the time to get to know their Airmen and build trust. He said, “If I know you and your heart, I am much more likely to trust you and your vision.” Our Airmen want to see us, share ideas with us, and get to know us! 

Talk the talk…then walk:

Abraham Lincoln was famous for his walk and sees. He championed the idea of getting out from behind his desk, talking to the people and seeing for himself how things were going on the front lines. 

Something as simple as walking around and connecting with his people built trust and credibility — he took the time to show his concern. Credibility starts with the words that come out of your mouth and ends with the actions you take next.

This is the reason some of us would rather take out our own trash or take 30 minutes every week “picking up brass” on foreign object debris walks with the Airmen. These small actions are the building blocks to creating an organization based on trust and understanding. 

Showing personal acts of humility can go a long way if done for the right reasons. John Wooden, a former National Championship winning UCLA basketball coach, would sweep his gym floor every week.

It was this act of self-service and humility that showed his players that he was not afraid of doing the little things to support the team, making a huge impact within.

You don’t have to have tea time with people in your organization in order to build trust and connect. It can be checking ID cards at the gate, picking up FOD on the flight line, or sharing a meal. The point is to find something that helps you connect with your team in a meaningful way. These simple acts are far from being simple — they can mean the world to someone.  But…tea is always a good idea.

You want to find your impact, find your broom. - John Wooden