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.

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.

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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.


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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role models

Women in Leadership: How to Transform the Long, Bumpy Side Road into a Smooth & Sleek Highway

“The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example”
-John Wooden

Jacinda Ardern, Kamala Harris, MacKenzie Scott, Christine Lagarde, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mary Barra and Angela Merkel are just a handful of spectacular souls changing the face of leadership. And, as much as their impact – and that of other dynamic women- has been proven and is desired, there is still a large gap in the number of women in leadership today.

Indeed, according to the OECD, less than a quarter of top leadership positions worldwide are occupied by women. This share ranges from about 16% in Africa to almost 30% in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.

While various reasons exist for this disparity, there is hope.  One way we can bridge the disconnect is through mentoring and positive role modeling.


For companies to get the talent they need in the fields where they need it, women (who make up half the population) will have to play a substantive role. And right now, they are not.
Sandra Sancier-Sultan and Sandra Scharf | McKinsey & Company

Learning From Life vs Learning from Mentors & Role Models

While we can learn a lot from books and the classroom, even more valuable knowledge is gleaned from experiencing life itself. And in business, what better way than to learn than alongside a mentor?

Mentors and role models can be a boost not only for business education, but they can also share the emotional and psychological burdens of boardroom atmospheres that often can often feel intimidating and overwhelming for emerging women leaders.

In fact, of the hundred or so top women leaders I have coached, their biggest obstacle has been taking up space in a male-dominated company or industry. In other words, feeling isolated and alone, they are challenged with stepping fully into their power and in so doing having a strong – and approachable – presence.

This male majority has been a phenomenon in nearly every organization I have worked with (and there have been quite a few!). Given this, the more we women can come together and lift each other up, the more we can see those numbers above rise.  Shared experience can be a strong bond.

“My role model didn’t tell me, he showed me.”

The (Leadership) Elephant in the Boardroom

Lack of equality with men in top corporate positions has been a topic that has received a great deal of attention in recent decades, yet the issue still persists around the globe.

Perhaps it’s the elephant in the boardroom. Outside of their domain, companies profess to a commitment to hire more women, including women of Color. But when it comes to actual hiring, women still lag behind men.

While women’s presence at all levels of the corporate ladder showed improvement in 2020 says McKinsey, the “broken rung still exists: men are promoted at higher rates as managers over women, causing a lack of progress for women towards more senior positions. Women of Color lag even further behind.

Additionally, as aforementioned, women often experience being the ‘Onlys’ and ‘double Onlys’: in a room: they are the only of their gender or racial identity. That means working under a microscope, under continual scrutiny.

While the corporate workplace is not an even playing field for women, there are ways other women can help.

Social Support Networks Prove Valuable in Women’s Leadership

According to Insead, larger businesses are aware that social support is vital for women to work their best – and promote diversity and inclusion.

Examples of such support networks are:

  • Formal or informal mentoring and sponsorship: the ideas of being aware of our own impact and being there for each other are “advertised” and encouraged
  • Peer support: special interest groups (women in mining, women in tech, etc.)
  • Role models: more and more trailblazers becoming aware that their experiences, mindset and energy can most certainly benefit others

Mentoring programs…

Have been in existence for years, and research highlights evidence that informal mentorship and sponsorship to help women is especially effective.

Role Models…

Are just that- those in under-represented groups see others like themselves succeed. That leads to reassurance that they, too can achieve.  Role modeling becomes even more effective when these admired women leaders also become mentors.

Peer Support…

Provides an atmosphere of accomplishment: professionals who attended a for-women only networking conference were more likely to receive a promotion.

Whether it’s mentoring, peer support, or role modeling, they are all beneficial. Those that were free to choose their own mentor found greater value in it versus those who had no choice in their selection. From a coaching standpoint, this is obvious. Trust and fit are the top factors to any successful relationship – especially one where a person is asking another human for support.  It just wouldn’t work otherwise.  I have experienced coachees walking through some tremendous discomfort towards a way of being and doing that is infinitely more rewarding for them. And they never would have drummed up this courage had they not felt good in our relationship.

Sheryl Sandberg has often credited those who have mentored her along the way, describing one mentor as her ‘champion,’ and sharing that she received opportunities she wouldn’t otherwise have had.

Mentoring programs are a win-win situation for both mentors and mentees.

If there isn’t a formal mentorship program or competent female leader in your company who is a good match, look to the outside. Many trade associations offer mentorship programs. Check out WLMA, the Women’s Leadership and Mentor Alliance.

You may also find someone in a professional or community group.

Also, we at Authentic Leadership International are always delighted to hear from you and to be of service in any way we can.

Business Dictionary has some advice: “Observe your mentor’s behavior closely, especially how she reacts in stressful or difficult situations. It is important to develop your own leadership style but utilizing what you learn from a successful manager to mold your own behavior can be a good starting point.”

“When you see a role model, what you see is a person who has the courage to be who you wish you could be.
Stop wishing and just be.”

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