Connection as Currency
The greatest disruption to 21st century life has shown up as a global pandemic. Disrupting every aspect of our personal and professional lives, it has challenged our most essential human need—-for connection. We have learned to value connection with others differently, and how to create connection through technology when in-person interactions aren’t possible.
One big issue for leaders in organizations today is around how to create more meaningful connections in a hybrid world? Office designs will need to capture the importance of open, collaborative spaces. Technology that permits better connection will rapidly evolve so that we will rarely hear: “this person works remotely so they don’t feel as connected.”
What does it mean to be connected as a leader? (Hint: It’s not about the Wi-Fi)!
According to the dictionary, to connect is to “bring together or into contact so that a real or notional link is established.” What may be surprising is how vitally important being “connected” is to being a good leader. Leaders work with and through people, and that requires connection.
In a Harvard Business Review article from February 2013, entitled “How Poor Leaders Become Good Leaders” Zenger and Folkman identified the areas that are shown to impact leadership performance.
Of the nine areas they identified, the four below are some of the key competencies for connected leaders:
- They improved their communication effectiveness
- They made an effort to share their knowledge and expertise more widely
- They developed a broader perspective
- They began to encourage cooperation rather than competition
What is important about being connected as a leader?
When leaders are connected, they demonstrate trust. This occurs with an open, accepting style in which the leader asks questions out of genuine curiosity, listens to the answers, and shares knowledge and perspective. The goal is to create a culture which is open and in which every person is valued as a leader, no matter their level.
The paradigm that can help I shown in this diagram by Harold Jarche. Notice how trust is at the center. The factors that create trust are openness, transparency, and an acknowledgement of the diversity of ideas.
This is the new paradigm of leadership, and is critical for today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world! Problem-solving requires multiple and often divergent inputs at a fast pace. In this world, it is critical that leaders be connected.
“Won’t that make me vulnerable?” you may ask. “How can I ask people to respect me if I am vulnerable?” Howard Shultz, CEO of Starbucks, once said, “The hardest thing about being a leader is demonstrating or showing vulnerability. When the leader demonstrates vulnerability and sensibility and brings people together, the team wins.” An appropriate amount of authentic vulnerability is a show of strength; it will increase your connection to others, increasing the chance that they see you as courageous and authentic.
When I was working with a leadership team recently, the senior management team increased their connection to one another through spending time in facilitated conversation with me on just a few simple questions. Although I had prepared a list of them for our work together, we only made it through two or three. They instead spent their time becoming deeply connected to what mattered most; as individuals, to the team, and to the company. At the end of the day, they demonstrated to me and to each other, the hallmarks of connection mentioned in the Harvard Business Review article above. The CEO indicated, “I had no idea how important it was for me to be vulnerable; it was the opposite of what I had thought.”
What was the outcome of his ability to connect as a leader? No more business as usual. His entire leadership team stepped up to a higher level of engagement. Their inspiration and excitement were palpable. They rolled up their sleeves to create exciting new directions for the company’s growth.
Leaders have an opportunity to reflect connection as part of their culture, exploring the value placed on connection vs. competition. Is connection a core value? If so, how is it being demonstrated? With what level of consistency? Do we have a rhythm around how we connect as a team, department, division, or company?
Finally, what is the quality of our listening and conversational architecture?
- Are we fully present?
- Are we listening deeply without an agenda of our own?
- Are we willing to be vulnerable?
A quote I recently heard stated, “I you don’t go within, you go without.” Becoming connected as a leader requires you to first connect to yourself. Become a centered and present leader.
Use your ability use your breath to regulate the state of your mind. Become fully aware of what is going on right in front of you. Once you are connected within, (and not until you are), are you ready to connect with others. To your connected leadership and breakthrough results!