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 URGE YOU TO BE THE LEADER WHO DOES.
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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