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The Need to Connect

If you’ve been a leader for very long, you’ve had this experience: You think that you have communicated things, but in reality you didn’t connect. If you don’t learn to truly connect, you will always be disappointed and fall short of what you hope to accomplish. Great leaders intuitively realize that what propels their organization or team forward is a feeling of connection.


John Maxwell, one of the all-time great connecters, defines connecting as the ability to identify with people and relate to them in such a way that it increases our influence with them. “Why is it so important?,” he asks. “Because the ability to connect with others is a major determining factor in reaching your potential. To achieve anything of lasting value, you must partner with others. And to do that at your absolute best, you must learn to connect. How much healthier would your relationships be if you excelled at connecting? What would your marriage be like? How much happier would your family life be? How much better would you be at getting along with your neighbors if you were able to connect with them? How would being a better connector impact your career? What would happen if you were fantastic at connecting with your co-workers or employees?”


Being able to connect with people one-on-one is the most important skill—more important than connecting in a group or with an audience. We all think the big audience communicators are the ones with the influence, but 80 to 90 percent of all connecting occurs one to one. This is where you connect with the people in your life who are most important to you.


In general, you can increase your one-on-one success if you will remember a couple simple things:

  • Talk more about the other person and less about yourself. Before a meeting or social gathering, prepare two or three questions you can ask others about themselves.

  • Prepare something of value, such as a helpful quote, story, book, or CD, to give to someone when you get together.

  • At the close of a conversation, ask if there is anything you can do to help them, and then follow through. Acts of servanthood have a resounding impact that lives longer than words.

Again, Maxwell says, “Connection is a critical part of leadership, because you can’t lead if no one will follow. You have to connect with others in order to be a leader.”


To create a basis for connection with your team or organization, you have to be a real person. Great leaders are able to connect because they are real people. They show up with their real selves. They are emotionally honest and are open to receive feedback. They recognize the feelings of other people, and they treat themselves and others as humans, laughing and enjoying life, knowing everyone makes mistakes. When they make mistakes, they admit them, and they make team members feel safe to own mistakes.


These leaders who connect don't assume and jump into conclusions. They look at difficult situations from several angles. They talk to several people for perspective, get clarity, and then determine a course of action. They have courage in conflict. They speak clearly, honestly, and with integrity. That's why such leaders usually have great reputations. They are teachable, willing to ask questions, and are sincerely interested in the answers. They are accessible and listen to understand. All of this promotes trust, and trust enables great connection.


Theo Epstein, the president of Baseball Operations at Chicago Cubs World Series Championship, helped guide their win in the first World Series Championship in 108 years. In an interview with Fortune magazine, Epstein credited the win to the team’s connection. He said,


“When people do things they weren’t even sure they were capable of, I think it comes back to connection. Connection with teammates. Connection with the organization. Feeling like they belong in the environment. I think it’s a human need—the need to feel connected. We don’t live in isolation. Most people don’t like working in isolation; some do, but typically don’t end up playing Major League Baseball.”


Epstein is right. We do have a need to be with others. In fact, we are biologically wired to want to be with other people. Having a sense of belonging to those around us improves our well-being. Yet, we often receive conflicting workplace messages that we need to focus on tasks and not waste time making friends. When connection is strained in an organization, you can easily see it by simply walking around and noting the types of interactions. Once the leader is a real, authentic person, he or she is ready to improve connection for and with the entire team.


Regular productive meetings build connection. Meeting face to face is an obvious method to build trust. Even having daily or weekly phone meetings clears up roadblocks and helps people get clarity and focus on the right priorities. Meetings link everyone to the leader and improves the connection between team members. Leaders who have learned how to run meetings effectively are more connected and present to the challenges facing the business. It’s a powerful connection tool.


Sharing communication widely builds connection. When team members feel that communication is ambiguous or they don’t understand what is expected of them, they fall into fear and low trust. As a leader, it’s vital to reduce uncertainty by letting people know where the company is headed and why. Share as much information as you can to help people perform, without violating confidential information. Invite team members to share their information on what they are learning.


Thanking team members for their contributions builds connection. They feel connected, valued, and willing to try new things.


Managing by walking around also builds connection. Increasing visibility makes people more likely to trust the leader and connect.


Encouraging cross-functional collaboration also builds connection. Cross-functional teams ensure employees are highly networked. Network to solve problems and to learn about other departments. It helps each person see how their work positively impacts others and builds connection and motivation.


Fun and celebration build connection. Never underestimate the importance of socializing. Celebrate reaching milestones, reaching goals, and the people who care. Enjoy being together without working. If the only communication team members have with each other is task-related, it reduces the ability for team members to be resilient during conflict, and it lowers connection with the leader and the team. Sponsor lunches, dinners, activities, and after-work parties.


As Abraham Maslow taught in his Hierarchy of Needs, “We can’t even consider higher goals until we have the necessities of life met.” Connection is one of those necessities. A leader will greatly improve his/her connection ability and the growth and production of the team.

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