Leading with Connection
How connected are you as a leader?
This question is not related to the number of connections, followers, movers, and shakers you may have on your Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter accounts or how many people are in your networking circle. Although having a large following is commendable, this question is directly concerned with the people who you are around every day. How connected are you with them? What does connection look like in your organization? As its leader, what actions do you take to establish relationships with the people for whom you are responsible and who report to you? And how does connection matter to the overall goals and results your company is trying to obtain?
As mentioned in Leading in 3D – Part I, having a powerful and clear vision for your ideal self and life are key to becoming and being a “Lead in 3D” leader. Part of that vision included having the right people on your team to help move your vision forward. But who are the people you need? How do you know if you already have them on your team? Connection is a crucial part of knowing if the right people are in your purview or even exist in the company at all.
If you are currently in a leadership role, I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that you would like to be the absolute best leader you can be. So, how can developing connection with your employees help move you to toward being a great leader? Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee share research in their book, Resonant Leadership (2005), which states that emotional intelligence (EI) “accounts for 85-90% of the difference between outstanding leaders and their average peers” (p. 28). These skills include: Knowing yourself (self-awareness), managing strong emotions (self-management), knowing others and being able to empathize with them (social awareness), and solving problems (relationships). The more adept a leader is at these skills, the larger their capacity for making decisions that are good for people and the company’s performance.
With the above in mind, what are some qualities, traits, and skills you can further develop to create better connection opportunities and move closer to leading in 3D?
Approachability & Authenticity
While the question of how well you know your team (both at a personal and a professional level) is part of this connection equation, a question that is equally important to consider is, “How easily do you allow them to know you?”
Reflect on these for a moment:
How do you show up as a leader each day?
Are you the arrive-and-shut-the-door-unless-there-is-a-problem kind of leader, or are you visible and engaged in what is going on?
How easy is it to “get to you”? Are you accessible when needed?
Are you open to people stopping in for a 5-minute check-in (make sure there are established norms around this)?
How do you create a sense of safety around you for your employees?
How content are you in your leadership role? Do you enjoy it? Do you find meaning and purpose in it? If you do, do you let it show?
Being real and true to your values is the foundation for all connection. Allowing people to get to know you, not just the strong parts of you, but the parts of you that struggle sometimes (as everyone does), and letting them see you at times when you’re unsure about something keeps you human and relatable.
Authentic connection requires a leader to be trustworthy. Trust is built by being honest and forthcoming, but by also establishing a sense of stability, steadfastness, and predictability – especially when it comes to how you respond to strong emotions, uncomfortable situations, and big problems. Managing emotions appropriately (Please Note: emotions are contagious) and following through on what you say you will do are key components of building trust among your people. Furthermore, confidentiality is huge – and how you “behave” when chatting around the water cooler (gossip, much?) or behind closed doors will set the tone for whether you can be trusted with personal or professional information.
Being authentic, approachable, and trustworthy really boils down to how clearly you are communicating your needs, wants, expectations, limits and boundaries, and vision to the people in your organization. Sorry, but try not to be too literal here – it is not enough to make short, clear statements. You are not a walking memo. So, consider what tone of voice you use when you talk to people. Are you expressing your thoughts, goals, and expectations openly with a warm, inviting tone? Or are you dictating what is and what will be – and making it clear through your nonverbals that you are not open to discussion on any of it? Since communication is both verbal and nonverbal, what you say, how you say it, and what your body and facial expressions do while in conversations send messages to people about whether you are truly curious about them and if you are actively listening to the input they are sharing. Believe it or not, you can effectively lead in 3D with empathy and understanding, and still achieve the desired results for which you are aiming. Giving people your undivided attention when they are in front of you (and if you cannot at that time, asking them to come back when you can do so), setting group norms at team meetings, and being a compassionate communicator actually sparks innovation and creativity in yourself and in others.
Positivity & Optimism
Are you a glass half empty or a glass half full leader? A positive, abundant mindset if much easier to connect with than a negative, scarcity mindset. So, which mindset do you lean more towards? Is it consistent – or does it shift with the changing of the tides? Your employees, colleagues, and stakeholders will be much more likely to connect with you and what you have to say, when they know you are positive and optimistic about where you are at and where the company is headed. Additionally, letting your team know you like to have fun, and have a degree of flexibility, opens the connection door even further.
Mindfulness & Observation
Self-awareness is the key to success in all areas of life, so doing the work to know yourself should be a fundamental life-long intention. Additionally, social awareness (the ability to know others) is also a key skill to develop. Being a mindful and observant leader allows you to make the conscious effort to meaningfully acknowledge, praise, and provide feedback to your team that helps them celebrate their efforts and helps them continue to grow. Feeling seen and heard for who they are and what they are doing encourages the people around you to feel safe and appreciated, thus leading to deeper connections with you.
Inclusivity & Cultural Awareness
As a 21st century leader, creating and establishing connections with your team requires you to be educated on, knowledgeable about, and taking action to establish inclusive practices and cultural diversity awareness in the workplace (and really, a great leader is intentional about knowing what is going on in the local and global community as well).
So, what do you know about ableism, ageism, racism, sexism, mental health stigma, and sexual orientation discrimination? When was the last time you checked in on your thoughts and beliefs about these issues? In what ways are you acknowledging and communicating them in your workplace – to the benefit or potentially to the detriment of your workplace environment and team? Where do you stand as a leader on social justice and equity? How comfortable are you having necessary uncomfortable conversations about these topics?
Regardless of race, age, ability, gender, sexual orientation or identity, or health status, all people in your workplace deserve to be respected, understood, and be able to work in an environment that connects a strong sense of belonging to the work they do within it. As a leader, you are the person who must set the equity bar high so others can know what is expected and accepted in the work culture you establish. Respecting people’s life and cultural experiences is essential to making connection a top priority in your company.
You Can Do This
Making connections with those around you whether for personal or professional reasons is not always easy to do. It can be scary, and the stereotypical, traditional leadership qualities and skills that have been modeled over the course of history are not all conducive to being a 3DLife™ leader. The best part is though, they CAN be learned. IF you are willing to get comfortable with vulnerability and put the time and effort in to do so.
You, your team, your organization, and the results you desire will be better for it because you put the time in to connect with them as a person and a leader, but you also have connected them with your vision – with a strong reason to get behind it to make it happen – YOU.
Some Leaders Who Connect
Michelle Obama: Relatable, authentic, warm, sets boundaries, fun-loving, caring, empathic, open
Barack Obama: humorous, down-to-earth, communicates high expectations of himself and others, authentic, vulnerable, open
Oprah Winfrey: Seeks the truth, problem solver, curious, compassionate, generous, attentive listener
Melinda Gates: Empathetic, loving, understanding, aware, clearly communicates values verbally and through actions
Lewis Howes: Acknowledges others, empathetic, genuine, curiosity, optimistic, attentive listener
Colleen Barrette & (the late) Herb Kelleher: created a culture of servant leadership and human leadership at Southwest Airlines – fun, relaxed, warm, set clear expectations, flexible
Dalai Lama: Promotes values of forgiveness, love, compassion, self-discipline, tolerance, and contentment, playful, relatable, accessible
Dr. Robert Strang: empathetic, caring, playful, comfortable with vulnerability, authentic, part of the team
Jacinda Ardern: trustworthy, empathetic, confident, strong communicator, part of the team, relatable, authentic, caring
Keep It Simple
What quality, trait, or skill will you start with to go on your connected, 3DLife™ leadership journey?
In the next entry of the 3DLife™ Leadership Series: Leading in 3D, I will take a dive into how actioning your core values and beliefs (among other things) helps to bring you closer to showing up as the leader you aspire to be.
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Until next time…
Take Care & Keep It Simple,
Michelle Hurlburt is a Life & Executive Coach, as well as a Social and Emotional Learning Coach & Trainer. She holds B.Ed. and M.Ed. in Leadership degrees and has been certified by the Certified Coaches Federation as a Coach Practitioner, Group Coach Practitioner, and Certified Master Coach Practitioner. Michelle has been a tenant with Ignite Labs since November 2019.