Neglecting human connection when leading comes at enormous cost. If connecting isn’t a leader’s natural preference though, it can be a real challenge. Often, leaders who are focused on achieving results don’t pay close attention to connecting with the people they lead. And yet, the ability to connect on a personal level is arguably the single most impactful leadership skill.

Why are results-oriented leaders so bad at this? Well, let’s be real. It’s just not intuitive for them. They’re intent on getting the work done. Moving up the ladder to where they are has actually been based on a series of promotions related to execution – the “doing” of their work. Hard work and strong results equal promotion. They’ve experienced it over and over in their career. Consequently, by the time they’re in executive positions, many leaders are focused on results rather than people. Many of them have a natural preference for “tangible” transactional pieces over what they consider the “soft” piece of connection. Combine that with being busy, overwhelmed and distracted and the typical executive doesn’t have much bandwidth to a focus on emotional intelligence if that isn’t their natural bent.

Many of these leaders make the assumption that their people are busy too, and won’t appreciate having their work interrupted for the sake of connection. This is logical. There’s also the concern that if they focus on connecting with people, that expectation will only continue to build, leading to even more of their time being taken up with it. Since it’s not a point of strength for these leaders, it could lead to (gasp!) mediocre results or even failure. Unacceptable. And what if the connection breeds a feeling of familiarity that leads the recipient to believe his/her value is inflated? Will they be expecting to be mentored next – or promoted? The fear is palpable, but you cannot allow it to keep you from finding a way to make meaningful connections.


Why does it matter so much?



1. Connection Affects the Bottom Line

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor shows that engagement at work raises sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and accuracy on tasks by 19%, as well as contributing to innumerable health and quality of life improvements. Connection is proven to build engagement, so this definitely improves the bottom line.

2. Connection Makes Your Vision Work

One of the most desirable skills in leadership is being visionary. But having a vision isn’t enough. For your vision to be realized, today’s leaders have to be able to motivate their teams to do what is most important. For that, you need connection. People won’t make a real commitment to a leader they don’t trust to care about and invest in them.  Remember, you wouldn’t be where you are without your people, and your vision won’t come to fruition if people don’t believe in it – or in you. Nothing – absolutely nothing – can derail an organization like disengaged people.

3. Connection Creates Engagement

Connection between people touches a core, natural human need – to be significant; to feel heard and seen. When you connect with the people on your teams on a personal level, they feel like you care about them, appreciate their contributions, and value their point of view. I’ve seen over and over how a connection between leaders and the people on their teams creates employee commitment and increased engagement. Not only does it feel respectful and motivating, but also, our work is usually central to who we are and how we perceive ourselves, so a sense of positive connection to leadership in our workplace can be an important indication of social worth. Everyone wants to feel valued. The bottom line is that people will want to work harder and better for an organization when they know their leader is invested in them and cares about the things that impact their lives and workplace.

4. Connection Builds Next Gen Leaders

People often join organizations in the hope of advancing their position over time - by growing professionally and becoming better versions of themselves. Respectful connection is an important feedback method and motivation for this growth.  When you’re building new leaders (which you need to be doing) it’s important to ensure they’re feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions. Without it, emerging leaders feel demotivated and discouraged. Connecting is where and how you encourage creativity, innovation, bold new ideas, and strong decision-making abilities. Modelling this will build the competency of connection in your next-gen leaders.

5. Connection Generates Clarity

Regular connection creates a flow of knowledge that brings shared understanding. This can happen in several ways, with the most obvious one being through regular meetings designed to discuss how teams are making progress towards organizational goals. That’s why connecting on a team level is important too. Your individual connections become a currency in meetings as the component of information flow needs to go two ways – from the leader and to the leader. Strong decisions cannot be made if you don’t have enough trust on the team for information to be offered transparently. And for real trust to be the foundation, it’s imperative that a leader be seen to be listening to others' views before taking decisions.

                 

So how can leaders who aren’t natural connectors start to practice connecting without feeling fake?

  1. Get out from behind a desk and be intentional about connecting with your people. Not only will it improve your reputation to be seen as interested in what’s happening, but it will provide you with the opportunity to view operations through the eyes of your people and give you firsthand knowledge about what’s working and what isn’t.
  2. Make direct eye contact. When you’re walking around, put your phone down and look people straight in the eye. Smile and greet people. It doesn’t have to be intense – just real. “Hey Dave. You’re in early.” “Good morning, Sarah!” “Good weekend, Bill?”
  3. Respond when others speak – even brief verbal affirmations like “I see,” “Right,” “Sure,” “Thank you,” or “I understand” create connection.
  4. Ask open-ended questions about the work team members are doing (or even about their lives if you have a genuine interest). Paraphrase responses to show understanding.
  5. Seek clarification when you’re not sure about specific points – “I’m not sure I’m getting it. Can you help me understand ____?”.
  6. Wait to state your own opinion until you’ve fully heard the other person’s thoughts.
  7. Disclose similar experiences to show understanding.
  8. In a one-to-one setting, offer transparency and honesty in your feedback to team members, but also remember that it’s not all about critiquing what’s going wrong. Don’t forget to offer feed forward - solid suggestions for moving forward differently – and be sure to genuinely praise what’s been going well.  


Research makes it clear that organizations with a culture of connection have a competitive advantage, making them more productive and profitable. Talking about the importance of corporate culture and how leaders need to be living by their organization’s values has become de rigueur. Emotional intelligence is ‘in style’ and it’s expected that leaders have the ability to handle conflict (rather than avoid it), build trust, unity and clarity on their teams, and still continue to meet organizational and revenue goals.

 

When you’re a results-oriented leader, this assortment of expectations may not be so easy to fulfil and the suggestions above are only the beginning of understanding how to create and sustain an attitude of connection. Practice makes perfect. You can take heart in the words of Daniel Goleman, a best-selling author and renowned science journalist widely regarded for his research and reporting on the brain and behavioral sciences:


“Unlike IQ, which is largely genetic – it changes little from childhood – the skills of emotional intelligence can be learned at any age. It’s not easy, however. Growing your emotional intelligence takes practice and commitment. But the payoffs are well worth the investment.”


Without a doubt, a leader’s mandate is to get results. The most successful leaders won't just implement processes, tools, and frameworks, though. They will activate a shift in mindset that embraces curiosity, humility, and a genuine respect and care for the people they work with. This is the art of connection in leadership.

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