Connection, Connect

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.

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

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