Connection

Why Cultivating Connection Should be the Priority for Leaders

In the world of Leadership, Connection is Everything.
Jen Hatmaker 

Have you ever jived with someone so completely that – for at least a little bit – you felt you were in symbiosis?  Many things in common, a passionate conversation which just flows and a natural tenderness between you: all of these seem to make – for at least a bit – our separateness go away.  They seem to create a space – for just a bit – in which we are finally fully seen and heard.  There’s nothing like it. Magic is the only word which comes close.

That happened to me very recently with someone I had just met – what a joyfully surprising evening it was.  And then, poof! Just as quickly as it had arrived, it was gone.

How Utterly Disappointing When That Happens

I can also imagine that I’m not the only one among us for whom this has ever happened.  And it’s neither the first time nor the last time for me, I’m sure.

Feeling high in the clouds and then coming to a thump on the ground doesn’t feel good for anyone.  We’re of course not only talking about romantic flings – the high/thump phenomenon can happen among friends, family members and co-workers alike.  It’s a human phenomenon.

Yet, it’s also in our human nature to desire closeness with others.  That’s who we really are: social beings who are born to connect meaningfully with others.

Even though heartache – in its various forms and degrees – is what keeps many of us in our unhealthy coping mechanisms and with our seeming protective shields on, making it either impossible or short-lived for others to establish a true connection with us.

“Cool is the emotional straight jacket.
It makes us less available for connection which makes us less equipped for leadership roles.”
– Brene Brown

My work as an Executive Coach and Transformational Facilitator creating programs around the world where leaders can step into a greater awareness of themselves and choose to shift toward expansion has shown me how most of us are craving meaning and fulfillment – qualities which can only be reached through true connection with ourselves and with others.

We may walk our lives “doing the deal” – ticking off our to-do list and just getting by.  While we may smile, many of us are desperately lonely for a real connection.  Yet because of experiences like the one described above, we have resigned ourselves either to the impossibility of a connection or to the fleeting, painful, nature of any that presents itself.

So, We Continue Along in Survival Mode

Throw on top of all of this the literal isolation most of us have experienced over the past two years through the global pandemic. Social distancing. Remote work. And those endless Zoom calls have only added to our dis-connection with others.

Yet if there is one thing we’ve learned from our own painful losses, from life in the Covid era, the war in Ukraine and all of the other world events which tear us against and away from each other, it’s the importance of human connection.

Never has genuine connection been more crucial – as humans and especially as leaders.  It is, after all, we leaders who seek to inspire and influence others. And that influence and inspiration just won’t take place without first the presence of genuine connection.

Connecting
is the ability to identify with people and relate in a way
that increases your influence and leadership.
– Steve Gutzler

Every Leader Can Incorporate 5 Easy Strategies to Cultivate Connection

So, to help all of us get just a little bit better at stretching beyond our comfort zone to connect genuinely with another person or persons, here are some tips:

#1 – Develop a Deeper Connection With Yourself

This can best be done by spending time alone, carrying out activities such as meditating, journaling, doing yoga, swimming, walking in nature, painting or singing. All of our relationships with others are a direct reflection of the one we have with our Self, so it makes sense to start connecting with yours truly before expanding outward.

For many of us, depending on the amount of unresolved trauma we may have, spending time alone can be scary stuff. This was my case for years as I clung on to people in order to avoid the unpleasant feelings within me. But the more I sat alone and felt whatever needed to come out and be cleared, the freer I felt and the better my relationship with myself became. As a bonus consequence, I’ve also been able to enjoy much healthier, more meaningful relationships around me.

Even my business has expanded thanks to being more deeply connected with myself:  people can sense when we’re more present and are better in our own skin.  This is why working on connecting better with ourselves has to come first.

#2 – Prioritize Building Relationships Rather Than Accomplishing Tasks

In today’s VUCA world, it’s easy to get caught up in the “nuts and bolts” of business, overlooking the more important human connection. Many of us may even be more comfortable with the technical – rather than the relational aspects. But when we focus on the “tactical” only, we miss out on the opportunity to foster more meaning for both ourselves and others.

Remembering that our results are vastly determined by our intentions and the attention we place on them, we can all practice self-awareness to determine if the values and vision we’ve defined for ourselves are in alignment with how we are actually spending our time and our attention.

The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present.
– James M. Kouzes

#3 – Check in Regularly With Your Team to Foster Greater Connection

We can show our sincerity in fostering greater connection by checking in with those we lead on a frequent basis. As you do, make sure to show vulnerability in terms of how you are feeling, what you are thinking or how you might be going about getting certain needs met. This is a simple yet powerful strategy to cultivate trust in leadership – something which both the protective parts of us and the tumultuous world we live in has made especially challenging.

When you’re checking in with your team, make sure to also encourage meaning between team members. Forbes offers some great thoughts on how to do this successfully, such as:

  • Co-creating with team members by including them in solution-finding & letting them know their opinion is valued.
  • Develop activities – in and out of the office – that you can share together. Things like an offsite in nature, a power walk, a collective fantasy football or a charity drive could each be the thing that makes a team click together.
  • Role model vulnerability so that others can follow in your footsteps. In Brene Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability Ted Talk, she holds vulnerability as the generator of meaningful connection between people.  Yet many of us are afraid to go there until we feel safe.  Our Role-modeling provides that safety for others.

#4 – Listen First; Then Ask What You Can Do to Help

Listening is a topic I’ve written about – it is a core trait of compassionate leadership and one that has become ever more crucial in today’s world. Forbes contributor Constance Dierickx suggests a great starter question that works well for both individuals and groups: “What do you need?” In my experience, such a question provokes the other person to contemplate exactly what the solution could be, taking their mind out of the problem and into the solution. In this way, we are serving them on two fronts:

  1. Helping them focus on the answer
  2. Truly helping them to satisfy that need

Leaders can glean profound insight from this seemingly simple question: When folks aren’t well-connected, responses are often generic and predictable. Two key indicators to any leader that something isn’t right? Reticence and superficiality.  An “I’m fine” or “All good” when clearly that is not the case is a red flag.

Moreover, the more connected we are to ourselves as leaders, the easier it is to sense this lack of congruence in others.

#5 – Infuse Even More Warmth Into Your Leadership Style

“Although most of us strive to demonstrate our strength, warmth contributes significantly more to others’ evaluations of us—and it’s judged before competence,” wrote authors Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger in an HBR article aptly titled “Connect, Then Lead”.

In fact, research has proven the notion that we humans really do seek connection with others: when we make quick judgments just by looking at people’s faces, we often pick up on warmth – or lack thereof – sooner than we do on competence.

I recently coached the VP of a tech company who was renowned throughout the company for two things:

  1. His intelligence
  2. A lack of sincerity while seemingly pretending to connect with others

His team and colleagues “felt” he was just ticking the boxes on the human side, but that he did not have a genuine interest in them. They felt this by how quickly he ran through the “How are you’s” and was on to the task at-hand. By the way, he did not stop to just be present with them and whatever they were feeling. The bulk of our work together involved bringing his genuine desire to be more available to those he worked with into alignment with what they were experiencing from him.

Getting Feedback and Paying Attention to Our Impact On Others Matters

The era we now live in has shown us how fragile life is – in an instant, everything can change. Whatever the workplace of the future looks like, one thing is certain: cultivating human connection is the foundation of success for any organization – no matter the industry or field.

In the words of Melinda Gates, Deep human connection is … the purpose and the result of a meaningful life – and it will inspire the most amazing acts of love, generosity, and humanity.

Looking for more tips on how to be a more impactful leader? Sign up here to access my free Weekly Bold Moves.

Mistakes

How Messing Up Makes Us Real Leaders

“I never lose. I either win or learn.”
– Nelson Mandela

Time and time again, in the early stages of a coaching or a leadership development relationship, I hear my clients speak of their “failures” with a tone of self-recrimination and regret as though they are forever doomed to drag the weight of a decision that did not go the way they want into all parts of their lives. Worse, somewhere they seem to have gotten the crazy idea that because they made a mistake that this somehow means they themselves are a mistake.

What?!

There’s actually dignity in falling down often: not only is it part of our human story to make mistakes, but it is also an essential part of our growth and the key ingredient to ultimate success.

Consider my dear friend (and a leader in his own right) whom I’ll call José. Even with being a sensitive, bright light full of good intentions, he, like so many of us, seems to be caught in a spiral of limiting results. We do something we are not proud of and because of that, we might make choices that further push our view of ourselves down and we label ourselves as lost causes so we end up making more unhelpful decisions. And the cycle continues.

Until, that is, we can begin to trust that maybe, just maybe, this messiness can serve a purpose. In fact, that’s the whole point of the messiness to begin with: to allow our discomfort with ourselves and our outcomes to show us how to get more comfortable and longer-lasting solutions. Seeing our mistakes (ours and those of others) as opportunities for learning and growth can cultivate self-compassion and boost self-esteem. This has a ripple effect of positivity – consider how challenging it is to show compassion towards others when we have a tough time giving it to ourselves.

Now reverse it – when we deepen our awareness and our willingness to practice self-compassion, we radiate this out to others as well.

The fact of the matter is that we all make mistakes. That’s part of being human.

But it’s how we handle them that defines our character. Do we beat ourselves up – and therefore miss the lesson contained within? Or do we breathe through those uncomfortable feelings, holding off on the self-shaming long enough to weed out the real learning here? The seeming failure can be opportunity in disguise – we actually improve our odds of future success by fully acknowledging and embracing it to both ourselves and others.

“The greatest mistake we make is living in constant fear that we will make one.”
-John C. Maxwell

To Hide – or Acknowledge – Our Errors?

It can be hard for us as humans to own up to making a mess of things. In fact, 67% of people actually hate admitting we’re wrong. Which is to say, in my book, that they’re afraid to acknowledge they’re not perfect.

By the way, have you ever been around someone who is so uptight because they’re trying to appear flawless? Not only is this super BORING, but it also creates anxiety in those around them. Who wants to be around Super Girl or Wonder Boy? We all have enough going on in our lives that when we interact with others, most of us are more attracted to those with self-awareness and integrity with whom we can just be ourselves. And this is next to impossible to be when we are filled with the anxiety of measuring up to someone else’s standards.

Any leader I have ever come across who tries to be perfect fails at the very art of leadership. Why? Because they are missing the point entirely: leadership is about inspiring people to grow and be more of who they are. How can we do this when we show every sign that we don’t think we need to grow (and learn) any more?

Team members don’t want to have to feel they’re walking on eggshells, fearful of making the slightest error. They want to feel supported on their journey towards becoming the best, most purposeful version of themselves. Blunders and learning are an integral part of that.

Odgers Berndtson Partner Silvia Eggenweiller casts some light on another version of mistakes.

“Our whole wealth of experience consists of the mistakes we have made.

We only become really good at something if we keep trying things out along the way, and sometimes fail ourselves.

Covering up mistakes, on the other hand, is usually much more expensive on balance than cultivating a good culture of mistakes.”

Berndtson labels failure a priceless opportunity.

And authentic leaders should see them that way as well.

Mistakes are Also How Innovation is Born

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”
– Albert Einstein

Tech companies, start-ups and smart consulting firms are leading the way in teaching all of us the value of failing…in fact, they very often have culture of “failing fast.” One innovative start-up I have recently worked with, for example, is creating something that has never been done before. At all. Given that no precedent has been set, how could they possibly have a successful end-product if they don’t allow mistakes to become a natural part of the creative process towards getting there?

The value in failing fast is that by making mistakes early on and learning from them off the bat, better, more impactful models can be built more quickly. In this way, errors have become a coveted part of their culture. Hearing more stories like this and broadcasting them can be impactful as well. Olga Rogacka writing in Success, lists common mistakes of leaders and cites individual case stories. Some of the common mistakes, among many others cited were:

  • Micromanaging
  • Correcting employee’s mistakes
  • Pushing too hard

In correcting employee’s mistakes, for example, one leader learned that instead of just fixing a mistake made by a team member, using it as a teaching moment gained far better results. Making it a coachable moment is not only far more effective than singling out or finger-pointing. It’s also way more compassionate for all.

Reading through other leaders’ experiences provides reassurance: they’ve made mistakes, too, and have used them to grow.

And that’s the attitude to take.

OK Leader – or Great Leader?

Writing in Inc., Lolly Daskal makes a defining statement:

“One of the ways you can tell a good leader from a great leader is how they handle their mistakes.”

Believing that a leader needs to set the right example, Daskal lists 4 basic ways we can define our leadership:

  1. Acknowledge where we ourselves went wrong, keeping the focus on our stuff.
  2. Learn the real lessons from mistakes and avoid repeating them.
  3. Share your learning with others so they can learn from your mistakes, too. That can cultivate an atmosphere of trust.
  4. Use your errors as a mechanism to move forward – not forgetting the error, but not allowing it to define who you are either. We are, after all, so much more than what we do.

Move beyond the stinking thinking that making a mistake is ‘bad,’ or ‘it’s my fault.’ Instead, embrace the lessons learned, move forward and, especially, give yourself grace.

“We all make them, the difference is what we do after we make the mistake, how we see the mistake – a learning experience or a failure.”
– Catherine Pulsifer

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Iceberg Model for Leaders

Want to increase your impact as a leader? Go below the waterline.

As a leader, you’re well aware that challenges at work (and in life) are a given. From tight deadlines and budget demands to HR issues, it can feel like the minute one issue is solved, another is there to take its place.

Instead of emphasizing how to avoid disagreeable situations, what matters more is how you respond to life’s changes and challenges.

In leadership and in life, we all face challenging situations.

What about you? Can you recall a time recently when you faced a distressing situation? Maybe:

  • You took offense to something that a colleague said or did.
  • A disagreement at work escalated into an all-out conflict.
  • At a key meeting, you felt ignored when you shared your insights.

When we encounter a challenge, many of us respond with the familiar fight, flight, or freeze approach (or a combination of all three!). After the dust settles, we may find ourselves saying things like:

  • I can’t believe I said that. What was I thinking?!
  • I know I should have responded more effectively, but I just had to get out of there fast.
  • I wish I could have done something differently, but I just shut down.

At the height of the challenging circumstance, you’ll likely experience some unpleasant physical symptoms, such as:

  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Facial flushing; an influx of warmth
  • Muscle tightening and/or clenched jaw, fists
  • A knot or heaviness in your stomach
  • Breathing troubles – hyperventilation, rapid breathing

Impactful leaders know this simple secret.

Consider this question posed in a 2014 McKinsey&Company article, Lead at your best:

“Instead of that “fight, flight, or freeze” reaction, what if you could pause, reflect, and then manage—creatively and effectively—what you’re experiencing?”

The most influential leaders worldwide know that you can choose to respond more effectively. As you deepen your capacity to better manage your reactions, you’ll also inspire others to follow your lead.Iceberg Model for Leaders

You might be thinking, “That sounds great – but where do I start?” The answer is more straightforward than you think. It all starts with a simple metaphor about an iceberg…

We humans share an interesting similarity with icebergs. Moving along the open waters, at first glance it may seem that what you see is what you get – just a towering piece of ice broken off from a glacier.

The waterline only represents the tip of the iceberg (literally).

It’s when we take a moment to consider what’s going on below the waterline that we increase our ability to understand our behaviors.

In ourselves and in others, we tend to observe surface behaviors and actions. That approach isn’t particularly effective. Why? Because 90% of what’s really happening – what drives human behavior – is happening below the waterline.

With this analogy in mind, think about a time when you responded in a less than desirable way. Let’s explore what’s happening beneath the surface.

McKinsey authors Barsh and Lavoie present some thought-provoking questions that I’ve summarized below, but I strongly encourage you to read the entire article to deepen your perspective even more.

To be an impactful leader, go below the waterline.

1) Start at the “tip of the iceberg.” How are you behaving? What are you saying? Think about the impact your words and actions had in that moment…and beyond.Effective leadership

2) Dare to descend below the waterline. Be honest. What thoughts and feelings did you have, but kept to yourself? Were you influenced less than productive (but very common) desires to be liked, seek approval, or conform in some way?

3) Make a bold move by navigating deep waters. Ask how you can you bring your values into this situation. Meaning, what matters to you? What are your beliefs related to this event – and about yourself and others? Might these have shaped your response?

4) If you’re ready, dive even deeper. What are your underlying needs? What might be at risk for you in this situation? Can you define what your deepest desires are?

How often have you heard cliché statements such as “like attracts like” or “what you fear, you create”? Actually, there is truth to both statements.

Transform unproductive behaviors while deepening your leadership capacity

Say for instance that it’s important to you to be seen as calm and competent, and you often worry about “coming undone”. At work, a major project deadline is missed. Before you know it, you’ve just unleashed some harsh comments to a team lead in the heat of the moment. Your greatest fear just happened.

Enter: the iceberg metaphor. Using this technique can help you transform unproductive behaviors into ones that are better aligned with your core values and that produce more desirable outcomes. There’s a bonus, too: you may find that you experience a deeper understanding of yourself – and of those you lead.

Over the next coming months, I’ll be taking a close look at this topic, sharing tips and tools that will inspire you to think differently. So, stay tuned!

Take action today: try this quick leadership tip.

I’d like to leave you with a simple tool that you can start using right away: Before your next meeting officially begins, check in with everyone present. Have each person share a tidbit about what might be happening “below the waterline,” starting with yourself.

Doing this encourages more open, honest conversation while deepening everyone’s understanding of how their colleagues may be feeling. As you make this a habit, you’ll notice that meetings become more productive. Now go on, try it today!

If you’d like a quick burst of leadership inspiration delivered fresh to your inbox each week, be sure to sign up for my weekly Bolder Moves Messages here.

Workplace culture | Corporate culture in the workplace | Inclusion in the workplace

Leaders, Inclusiveness Improves Corporate Culture

“Our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff, like great customer service or building a great long-term brand, or empowering passionate employees and customers will happen on its own.”
– Tony Hsieh CEO, Zappos

Recent news headlines have given us much to think about when it comes to what’s accepted within an organization’s culture. It begs the question: What would it be like if all workplace cultures were built on mutual respect and openness? And how do we make that happen?

Let’s start by understanding the importance of culture in business and then consider how leaders can be the catalysts for positive change in their specific organizations.

Culture: The “Immune System” Of The Workplace

There are myriads of ways that workplace culture impacts an organization’s short- and long-term success. In a recent article on Time.com, Arianna Huffington referred to corporate culture as a company’s “immune system.”

When a workplace culture is healthy, it values and celebrates each person’s contributions, so current employees want to stay and potential employees are eager to come on board. Conversely, an unhealthy culture will damage a company’s reputation and make employees more prone to the “illnesses” of human nature.

The more fit and strong the culture at your organization, the more easily employees can recognize the onset of these issues and take steps to remedy them.

What Makes A Healthy Workplace Culture?

Rather than focus on negatives, here are a few of the positive aspects that define a fit and thriving corporate culture. If they don’t necessarily describe your company right now, consider how you might incorporate them going forward, starting with your teams.

  • Diversity – Do you find yourself (or those within your organization) saying, “That’s the way we’ve always done it”? No more! This is essential if you want to foster well-being and improve performance. Diversity enables new thoughts, ideas, and possibilities to emerge so that you’re continually thinking, looking, and moving forward.
  • Transparency – In a culture of openness, you can spot issues and correct them before they create a crisis. Transparency makes it safe for people to admit their mistakes, learn from them, and use those lessons to benefit the organization. Be honest – could your organization benefit from greater levels of transparency?
  • A Larger Purpose – Millennials, in particular, thrive in a culture where principles are as important as profits. But doesn’t everyone want to feel they’re part of something beneficial -not only for customers but for the world as a whole? Where does your organization stand on this?

Your Role As A Leader: Build Inclusiveness

If a healthy corporate culture could be summed up in one word, it’s “inclusiveness.” An Inc.com article states that inclusive workplace cultures are healthier, more productive, and make team members feel more valued.

However, leaders can’t always gauge their efforts at inclusiveness, according to a ten-year study by leadership consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. So here are some key benchmarks to help you be a more inclusive leader and create a healthier corporate culture:

  1. Try to ignore your ego. – It’s human nature to think of ourselves first, but our role as leaders is to keep the focus on success for our team and for our organization as a whole. When you make this shift toward intellectual humility, you almost automatically create inclusiveness.
  2. Remember the value of listening. – As a leader, there’s a time to talk. But often, the way to reach the best ideas and solutions is to listen, and you create inclusiveness when you do. This doesn’t mean you have to use every suggestion, but you should always be willing to at least hear them.
  3. Encourage collaboration on your teams. – When your team members contribute to a project or solve an issue, they gain a great sense of motivation and accomplishment. Bill Gates said, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” And empowerment often starts with collaboration.

Every person deserves to work in a culture where they are valued, supported, empowered, and encouraged to be all they can be. As leaders, we play a major role in creating this safe and nurturing environment not only for the benefit of our employees but for the success of our companies in the long term. Are you ready for the challenge?

Looking for ways to be a bold leader who is a catalyst for creating a healthier, more inclusive culture within your organization? Sign up here to access my free Weekly Bold Move.

Why it makes sense to trust your gut | Authentic leaders trust their gut instincts | Follow your instincts

Leaders, Do You Trust Your Gut?

In our information-based world, many leaders have learned to make decisions based on whatever solid data can be gathered regarding a particular situation. But neuroscience has proven that there’s another important factor you should employ in leadership decision-making: trusting your gut.

Authentic Leaders Address Emotional Needs

Working effectively with people isn’t about how fast or how well your brain can process information, says the Forbes article The Neuroscience At The Heart Of Learning And Leading. As humans, we want and need to connect with each other on a deeper level—which takes empathy and imagination rather than just data.

More and more studies show that people perform better when their emotional needs are met. Leaders with good emotional intelligence and strong insights about their team members are better equipped to handle this.

Authentic leaders know themselves. They don’t depend solely on the “hard facts” – instead, they rely on their inner instincts and aren’t afraid to trust themselves, even if that means going against the grain when a situation dictates.

Why It Makes Sense to Follow Your Instincts

Human behavioral science believes that your gut collects and holds all your experiences and learning since you were born. When you trust your gut, you draw on this wealth of valuable information that can help you make better decisions, often more quickly and without having to process myriads of information.

Research has shown that when you combine this gut instinct with a thorough review of data, it can improve your decision-making in big, bold ways.

The leadership transformation coaches at Authentic Leadership International (www.boldermoves.com), can show you leadership approaches that use the right mix of facts, bold insight, and emotional intelligence to create a successful and empowered team.

Leaders, Try These Tips to Trust Your Gut

From FastCompany.com, here are some easy strategies you can use to trust your gut when making leadership decisions:

  • Take time to reflect. Avoid the temptation to make a snap decision and instead tell team members you need time to “sleep on it.”
  • If you tend to overanalyze, set a time limit for your decision and go to your gut at the end of that time period to see what your instincts tell you. Also be mindful of how you’re feeling, as that’s another way to access your gut intelligence.
  • Make a list of all your gut decisions and their outcomes. You’ll start to equate how you felt on a “gut level” with the results of your choice. Over time, you’ll be able to recognize when your instincts are giving you the thumbs up (or thumbs down) on a situation.

Bonus BOLD Tip: If it’s been a challenge for you to get in touch with your inner instincts, try meditation. Regularly participating in this powerful practice offers benefits that can not only help you deepen your capacity as a leader, but also give you fresh perspectives in your personal and professional lives.

Adding gut instincts to your decision-making tool box as a leader can help you and your team achieve impressive and on-going success.

Looking for new and bolder ways to manage your teams, including how to add an instinctive approach to your decision making process and leadership skillset? Sign up here to access my free Weekly Bold Move.