The longer I live, the more convinced I am of the power of connection—and especially connections of the heart. Unlike computers, rocks and steel, we humans have emotions and spirits that can be lifted, energized and ignited by a relational connection. We know it but grossly underestimate the power of those connections.
Our Strongest Connections
When conducting workshops, I often ask participates to think of a time when someone connected with them, asked about their dreams, believed in them, and spoke into their lives in a way that fueled them upward and onward in their life and career. The stories they share are sometimes emotional and always inspiring to everyone in the room.
Now, pause to reflect on the person who connected with your heart and helped fuel your dream job, or provided a booster rocket along your path. What did they do or say made a difference? Now, what about your leadership? How could you be a “launcher” who impacts and influences another person’s career? Recently I’ve learned more about how this works.
Connection is Scientific
Dr. Richard Boyatzis has studied, researched, and written about emotional intelligence and resonant relationships for decades now. The data is clear that, what he calls, resonant relationships are the most powerful method known for coaching and developing people.
In his new book coming out this month, Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth, Dr. Boyatzis describes a resonant relationship as one that is built on a positive emotional tone and a genuine, authentic connection with the other person.
His research shows conclusively that –
“positive relationship connections help people create change that is holistic and sustainable.” [Tweet This]
This is the principle that is borne out in the stories that people share about their positive experience with the one who launched them into the success they now enjoy, living out their dreams of many years ago.
Applying this Heart Strategy
We’re excited because now we can better understand and be even more confident in the process we call “Connecting with the Heart”.
Let’s look at some practical ways that you can be a career and life coach that launches people into being their best authentic self –
My Heart Connecting Leaders
As a young college student, one of the most influential and respected men in my small hometown spoke into my life. He always gave me a big smile when we met. Knowing I was very committed to Air Force ROTC, he would often greet me by saying, “Well hello general, how are things with you?” The message I received was his confidence that I had what it took and that I was going to go a long way.
Later as a young fighter pilot in the Vietnam war*, my Wing Commander, Colonel Bob Maloy, would greet me with a genuine smile and act like he was delighted to be flying with me. He let me fly most of the time and asked my opinions and respected what I said. Then he chose me to fly with him on the day we flew the 3,000 combat sortie for the Gunfighter wing at Danang. The amazing thing was that these were very busy, very successful people, old enough to be my father, yet they set everything aside, and cast their focus on me long enough to encourage my future.
Slow Down and Connect
“In an incredibly busy and often results-focused world of the 21st century, it’s easy to overlook the power that we have to inspire others by connecting with their hearts.” [Tweet This]
We need to pause and remember how crucial it was for us—and now it’s time to pay back the bank. Will you be one who reads this blog and becomes more intentional building resonant relationships? I hope so. I wrote it and I am. Let’s see how many of us can give a positive report before the September blog comes out. LE [Tweet this Article]
P.S. Don’t forget to look for Dr. Richard Boyatzis’ new book mentioned above releasing the first week of September. You don’t want to miss it.
We’ve just released the new Engage with Honor Group Training Guide as a self-study leadership development course for your team. Used with the award-winning book, Engage with Honor, this training guide provides everything you need to build a culture of courageous accountability.
“Connecting with the Heart” is a training session in this course.
Download a free sample in the Leading with Honor Store
Purchase your copies – bulk savings are available
What makes an effective leader? This question is a focus of my research as an organizational scientist, executive coach, and leadership development consultant. Looking for answers, I recently completed the first round of a study of 195 leaders in 15 countries over 30 global organizations. Participants were asked to choose the 15 most important leadership competencies from a list of 74. I’ve grouped the top ones into five major themes that suggest a set of priorities for leaders and leadership development programs. While some may not surprise you, they’re all difficult to master, in part because improving them requires acting against our nature.
This theme combines two of the three most highly rated attributes: “high ethical and moral standards” (67% selected it as one of the most important) and “communicating clear expectations” (56%).
Taken together, these attributes are all about creating a safe and trusting environment. A leader with high ethical standards conveys a commitment to fairness, instilling confidence that both they and their employees will honor the rules of the game. Similarly, when leaders clearly communicate their expectations, they avoid blindsiding people and ensure that everyone is on the same page. In a safe environment employees can relax, invoking the brain’s higher capacity for social engagement, innovation, creativity, and ambition.
Neuroscience corroborates this point. When the amygdala registers a threat to our safety, arteries harden and thicken to handle an increased blood flow to our limbs in preparation for a fight-or-flight response. In this state, we lose access to the social engagement system of the limbic brain and the executive function of the prefrontal cortex, inhibiting creativity and the drive for excellence. From a neuroscience perspective, making sure that people feel safe on a deep level should be job #1 for leaders.
But how? This competency is all about behaving in a way that is consistent with your values. If you find yourself making decisions that feel at odds with your principles or justifying actions in spite of a nagging sense of discomfort, you probably need to reconnect with your core values. I facilitate a simple exercise with my clients called “Deep Fast Forwarding” to help with this. Envision your funeral and what people say about you in a eulogy. Is it what you want to hear? This exercise will give you a clearer sense of what’s important to you, which will then help guide daily decision making.
To increase feelings of safety, work on communicating with the specific intent of making people feel safe. One way to accomplish this is to acknowledge and neutralize feared results or consequences from the outset. I call this “clearing the air.” For example, you might approach a conversation about a project gone wrong by saying, “I’m not trying to blame you. I just want to understand what happened.”
Providing clear direction while allowing employees to organize their own time and work was identified as the next most important leadership competency.
No leader can do everything themselves. Therefore, it’s critical to distribute power throughout the organization and to rely on decision making from those who are closest to the action.
Research has repeatedly shown that empowered teams are more productive and proactive, provide better customer service, and show higher levels of job satisfaction and commitment to their team and organization. And yet many leaders struggle to let people self-organize. They resist because they believe that power is a zero-sum game, they are reluctant to allow others to make mistakes, and they fear facing negative consequences from subordinates’ decisions.
To overcome the fear of relinquishing power, start by increasing awareness of physical tension that arises when you feel your position is being challenged. As discussed above, perceived threats activate a fight, flight, or freeze response in the amygdala. The good news is that we can train our bodies to experience relaxation instead of defensiveness when stress runs high. Try to separate the current situation from the past, share the outcome you fear most with others instead of trying to hold on to control, and remember that giving power up is a great way to increase influence — which builds power over time.
Leaders who “communicate often and openly” (competency #6) and “create a feeling of succeeding and failing together as a pack” (#8) build a strong foundation for connection.
We are a social species — we want to connect and feel a sense of belonging. From an evolutionary perspective, attachment is important because it improves our chances of survival in a world full of predators. Research suggests that a sense of connection could also impact productivity and emotional well-being. For example, scientists have found that emotions are contagious in the workplace: Employees feel emotionally depleted just by watching unpleasant interactions between coworkers.
From a neuroscience perspective, creating connection is a leader’s second most important job. Once we feel safe (a sensation that is registered in the reptilian brain), we also have to feel cared for (which activates the limbic brain) in order to unleash the full potential of our higher functioning prefrontal cortex.
There are some simple ways to promote belonging among employees: Smile at people, call them by name, and remember their interests and family members’ names. Pay focused attention when speaking to them, and clearly set the tone of the members of your team having each other’s backs. Using a song, motto, symbol, chant, or ritual that uniquely identifies your team can also strengthen this sense of connection.
What do “flexibility to change opinions” (competency #4), “being open to new ideas and approaches” (#7), and “provides safety for trial and error” (#10) have in common? If a leader has these strengths, they encourage learning; if they don’t, they risk stifling it.
Admitting we’re wrong isn’t easy. Once again, the negative effects of stress on brain function are partly to blame — in this case they impede learning. Researchers have found that reduced blood flow to our brains under threat reduces peripheral vision, ostensibly so we can deal with the immediate danger. For instance, they have observed a significant reduction in athletes’ peripheral vision before competition. While tunnel vision helps athletes focus, it closes the rest of us off to new ideas and approaches. Our opinions are more inflexible even when we’re presented with contradicting evidence, which makes learning almost impossible.
To encourage learning among employees, leaders must first ensure that they are open to learning (and changing course) themselves. Try to approach problem-solving discussions without a specific agenda or outcome. Withhold judgment until everyone has spoken, and let people know that all ideas will be considered. A greater diversity of ideas will emerge.
Failure is required for learning, but our relentless pursuit of results can also discourage employees from taking chances. To resolve this conflict, leaders must create a culture that supports risk-taking. One way of doing this is to use controlled experiments — think A/B testing — that allow for small failures and require rapid feedback and correction. This provides a platform for building collective intelligence so that employees learn from each other’s mistakes, too.
“Being committed to my ongoing training” (competency #5) and “helping me grow into a next-generation leader” (#9) make up the final category.
All living organisms have an innate need to leave copies of their genes. They maximize their offspring’s chances of success by nurturing and teaching them. In turn, those on the receiving end feel a sense of gratitude and loyalty. Think of the people to whom you’re most grateful — parents, teachers, friends, mentors. Chances are, they’ve cared for you or taught you something important.
When leaders show a commitment to our growth, the same primal emotions are tapped. Employees are motivated to reciprocate, expressing their gratitude or loyalty by going the extra mile. While managing through fear generates stress, which impairs higher brain function, the quality of work is vastly different when we are compelled by appreciation. If you want to inspire the best from your team, advocate for them, support their training and promotion, and go to bat to sponsor their important projects.
These five areas present significant challenges to leaders due to the natural responses that are hardwired into us. But with deep self-reflection and a shift in perspective (perhaps aided by a coach), there are also enormous opportunities for improving everyone’s performance by focusing on our own.
When physicians feel they have the tools, resources, and latitude they need to work at the top of their license and provide high-quality patient care, they’re more effective, more loyal, and less prone to burnout. Explore this infographic to understand 4 factors that correlate to more effective and satisfied physicians.
Imagine a single organization from the perspective of two different cultures: Culture Accountability and Culture Bottleneck.
In Culture A (Accountability), things get done quickly and efficiently. Executive teams are cohesive and managers know what is expected. As a result, managers run a tight ship and are quick to course-correct any activity, behavior or process that doesn’t align with the shared mission and vision. Managers are confident that their decisions will be supported by the executive team. Conversations, both vertical and horizontal, are focused on both process and people; results and relationships. Those who do not fit the culture leave on their own accord.
In Culture B (Bottleneck), bottlenecks create frustration. Decisions seem to be an afterthought and lack of trust precedes the need to micromanage. Managers fear making decisions because their decisions are often overridden. Executives complain that their managers never get the job done. On the front lines, turf wars and internal drama erupt spontaneously. Uncertainty, unexpected change and chaos color the culture. Conversations are avoided and poor performance is justified until something major happens and firing is the only option.
All other things considered, there are two components that distinguish Culture A from Culture B: Clarity and Communication.
In every single instance of time-wasting drama, no matter how it manifests, at the root is a lack of clarity in some form.
On the front lines, when employees are unclear about what success looks like, they lose confidence and waste productive hours getting reassurance and clarification — procrastinating when uncertain. At the highest level, lack of clarity about the real problem or the desired end result wastes time and resources hiring vendors and consultants offering “one and done” workshops or other ineffective solutions.
Even when there is clarity about the real problem, the end result and the process, a big road-block I often see is the lack of clarity about who is in charge and how decisions are made.
For context, let me share a quick example. Years ago I was on a project for a mid-sized corporation. My inside contact, a high-level director, had absolutely no power to push the project forward. Because of this fact, any work I did had to be approved by the top executive who would continuously change calendar dates and, in doing so, would “delegate” the date changing to the director, who had to navigate calendars and multiple dates. I estimate we wasted at least 40 productive hours chasing down the real decision maker to make a change instead of setting up one phone call.
The number-one problem I see that slows progress and efficiency is the inability or unwillingness of leaders to initiate what I call executive conversations. Executive conversations (as I define them) are both results- and relationship-oriented.
Many drama-laden cultures adopt an either-or mentality: a mindset that it’s all about results — anything for a profit, or it’s all about relationships — avoiding conflict at all costs. Both mindsets create accountability-related issues.
In his bestselling book, Advantage, Patrick Lencioni says:
“Many leaders struggle with accountability but don’t know it. Some will tell me that since they aren’t afraid to fire people, they must not have an accountability problem. Of course, this is misguided. Firing someone is not necessarily a sign of accountability, but is often the last act of cowardice for a leader who doesn’t know how or isn’t willing to hold people accountable. At its core, accountability is about having the courage to confront someone about their deficiencies and then to stand in the moment and deal with their reaction which may not be pleasant.“
When there is a lack of accountability there is a lack of alignment, and when there’s a lack of alignment there’s a need for executive conversations.
There are many factors that shape culture; however, it’s up to the senior leaders to eliminate the time-wasting bottlenecks that contribute to high-drama cultures. Get clear on the real problem and the desired end result. Clarify who is in charge and how decisions are made. Initiate executive conversations that are both relationship- and results-oriented to transform the Bottleneck Culture into a Culture of Accountability.