An Overture on Connection

There’s connection. And then there’s CONNECTION.

Deep, stirring, spine-tingling connection. When I listen to you speak, and I feel so profoundly invigorated by your personal energy. When I am suddenly eager to move mountains to support your ideals. When I don’t want the encounter with you to end. That’s CONNECTION.

No, this is not an essay on love. It’s a meditation on how a leader connects.

I trust the benefits of this level of cellular connection are clear. It begets an unambiguously committed workforce. Folks who feel jazzed about showing up for work. Folks who can’t wait to produce. Yes, we’re talking tangible R-O-I here.

The vast majority of leaders I know don’t get to that level of connection. Ever.


I play in the leadership-development-arena. This is the connection formula we’re feeding our leaders these days:

Tell great stories. Be authentic.

Here’s the deal. Stories are potent. They need to be well-told to resonate. That can be learned. Be authentic – as much as I appreciate the word authentic – is fast becoming the latest leadership cliché. A beautiful notion rendered meaningless by rampant and unexamined over-use.

The vast majority of leaders I know don’t get to that level of connection. Ever. I urge you to be the leader who does.

So here are some alternative frames for getting to a spine-tingling leader connection:

1. Give it up.

Yes – the “it” is control. Bob Livingston is the CEO of Dover Corporation, an 8 billion dollar global manufacturing empire. Like most CEOs, Bob occasionally delivers his prepared speech. He does this quite well.

But this is Bob at his brilliant best. He walks into a room full of senior business leaders. Welcomes them. And simply asks: What would you like to know? Then Bob embarks on a conversation based on the questions he is asked. He fully surrenders to the questions of his audience.

Yes, he gives it up.

Bob, of course, weaves key messages into every chat. But it never fails. Folks feel thrillingly connected to Bob. He is having THEIR conversation, after all. He is having the conversation THEY need.

2. Be dangerous.

Ask the questions they do not expect. Ask the questions that dive below the glittering sea. Ask the questions that demand a surprising answer. Ask the questions that invite a personal risk. Ask the questions that spell “danger.”

The hidden message of a dangerous question: He is fearlessly “in the moment.” She is not delivering a “canned speech.” This alone creates connection. This alone creates the sense that you and I are co-creating meaning. That we are fully “alive,” together, in this moment.

A question can be that powerful.

3. Radiate warmth.

I love Amy J. Cuddy’s research at The Harvard Business School (HBR July/August issue, 2013). Love it because it gives the language of emotional intelligence a fresh and instantly accessible twist. Yes, Amy is spot on. When we decide whether we will commit to a leader, Amy’s global research compellingly shows, we tend to consider two things. We look for warmth. We look for competence.

Leaders who connect radiate a perfect balance of warmth and competence. In case of doubt, Amy suggests, lead with warmth.

Most leaders I know lead with competence. Most leaders I know lack warmth. Let me clarify. I believe the warmth is there, tucked away somewhere in the subterranean vaults of the professional self.

Excavate your warmth. Radiate it. (Hint: bring the self you show in your private world, the self that is loving and playful, to work.)

This alone creates connection. This alone creates the sense that you and I are co-creating meaning. That we are fully “alive,” together, in this moment.

4. Dance on your personal edge.

Last summer I hung out with a bunch of Gestalt therapists at the Gestalt Institute of Cape Cod. That’s where I first heard this phrase. Dance on your personal edge.

I loved the phrase at once. Dancing connotes motion and fluidity. It is the opposite of stasis. It channels a connection to the muses. And the edge – oh, that is the wondrous place of danger and possibility. The place where you and I step outside of our personal walls of predictability.

The leader who plays it safe does not stir me. The leader who hides doesn’t. The leader who dances on the personal edge does. She gives me instant permission to do the same. Dares me to tip-toe out to my very own border. The place where I discover more of who I am and what I have to offer.

And when you and I dance on the edge together – whew, what a powerful connection that is. For the business. For our souls.

Come to think of it, maybe this is an essay on love, after all.

Jeanne Bliss, the high priestess of exceptional customer loyalty, writes beautifully about how we create companies that are BELOVED. Your ability to personally connect – spine-tinglingly connect – will make you the leader who is BELOVED.

So, yes. Why not love?


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Image credit: byheaven / 123RF Stock Photo

Achim Nowak is the author of Infectious: How to Connect Deeply and Unleash the Energetic Leader Within (Allworth/2013) and Power Speaking. An international authority on leadership presence, Achim coaches entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 executives around the globe. He has been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Entrepreneur, NPR, and on 60 Minutes. Achim is based in Miami.

  • Al Smith

    Love this. Thanks Achim. Also follow Jeanne Bliss and of course my boys here at switchandshift. This is one of the best I have read in awhile. Really appreciate your 4 suggestions. Especially “Give It Up” wow. So many leaders have trouble with that one. Ego maybe ? Anyway, I know you are a busy man, but i still hope we can get together in the near future in South Florida. Take CARE.


  • Sue Elliott

    Like so many of Achim Nowak’s articles, this inspires and excites me. Achim, I especially appreciate the reminder to give “it” up and be in the moment as a speaker and workshop leader. In my experience, this does indeed create the most powerful and empowering events (and a conversation absolutely can be an event). Thank you also for the insight that by dancing together on our personal edges, we can discover more of who we are and what we have to offer. How does it get any better than that?

  • johanngauthierakamrrenaissance

    Great post Achim!
    Still riding very HIGH from our weekend in NYC with Open Spacers.
    I absolutely love everything about your post. It radiates warmth as you so gently present it while still being a resonating call to action for all leaders to start acting like being present and in the moment. As we have kindly and passionately discussed in NYC love and compassion are central to any human endeavour.
    Let’s choose to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit, be curious and appreciative!
    Warm regards,

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  • Michele McHall

    Just found this wonderful ExchangeGain forum over the weekend and am thrilled to be reading so many inspiring articles. Thank you for writing this call to connection Achim. I especially appreciate you naming the hollowness that occurs when we simply parrot a buzz word like authenticity and don’t practice cultivating connection from the courage to be transparent and on the edge. I love this as an essay on generating more love and beloved leaders! As someone who has danced on the edge in a very solo way, I’m happy to know there is a tribe of kindred spirits out there!

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