The Art of Connection

Connection and belonging. Those feelings are the sauce that creates highly successful groups.

If you are the person responsible for cooking up a successful culture that permeates your organization, are you mixing in that secret sauce?

When leaders take the time to create a culture where connection and belonging are baked in, the following benefits result:

1.      Customers are better taken care of.

2.      Profitability grows.

3.      Retention improves.

4.      There is less stress and greater fulfillment in the workforce.

5.      Workers will look out for one another and help their coworkers more often.

6.      People will focus on doing their job well and taking care of customers rather than watching their backs.

 A Tale of Two Leaders

There are certain things leaders must do to create a culture where teammates feel they are connected and belong to an organization.

Recently I had opportunities to conduct leadership consulting and speak at two different organizations. One of the things I enjoy most about these engagements is hearing from people who work at the organizations. I love to hear what they have to say about their leaders. The lessons I gather are tremendous.

At Organization A, an office worker who is an employee at a company employing about 300 people, told me a story about the founder and owner of the company. This man founded the company about 25 years ago and through his leadership the company has grown steadily. The company is very profitable and has added over 250 employees to its roster over the 25 years it has been in business. The founder has since turned the reins of the business over to a president and COO and the founder is rarely there.

The office worker told me she has been employed by the company for about three months. Recently the company’s founder made a trip into the office. The office worker told me with a great big smile on her face, how the founder stopped by her desk to chat for about ten minutes. The founder asked this relatively new employee how she was getting along and what she liked most and least about her job. The newly hired office worker was amazed that the founder took a good deal of time to speak with her.

This employee now feels she is a member of a new family and with apologies to Mick Jagger, wild horses couldn’t pull her away from the company. This was all a result of the owner of the company spending a few minutes to sincerely engage the employee with energy. The owner made the employee feel valued and helped her feel that she had a long-term home with the company.

At Organization B I heard a completely different story from a mid-level executive. The man told me he has been with the organization for several years and was promoted to manage a department about six months ago. About two months ago a new director was hired and this manager was excited to establish a good working relationship with the new director. Recently the manager and director were walking down a hallway in the company headquarters toward one another. The manager smiled and said good morning and was shocked when the director never even made eye contact and continued to walk down the hall like the manager was not even there.

The manager confided in me that he did not know how long he would be able to remain with the company due to the energy-sapping atmosphere that has existed since this new director took over.

Let me ask you, what organization would you prefer to be a part of? A second question, what type of leader are you? Are you the one who engages those you lead with positive energy or are you a leader who fails to make eye contact and engage those you lead?

I have talked to some leaders who tell me they are just not extroverted. They say they are introverts and that the people they lead will just have to accept there will not be much interaction. To that, I say that many leaders are introverts rather than extroverts, including me. What I have found is effective leaders understand that displaying an extroverted persona when necessary is one of the requirements of being a leader. As a leader, you must move out of your comfort zone and engage those you lead energetically because that is what good leaders do.

Good leaders understand that three keys to successfully leading others include attitude, work ethic, and personality. To create a culture of connectedness and belonging leaders must demonstrate those three characteristics and other behaviors I will discuss in the next section.

Create a Culture of Connection and Belonging

One of the best books I read about creating a culture of connection and belonging is The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle. Based on the research found in Coyle’s book and my personal experience, below are several ways for leaders to create that type of high-performing culture in their organization.

1.      Engage the people you lead with high energy. Seek to create energy in your exchanges with others rather than drain energy.

2.      Send signals that show you value your employees. Thank them for what they do. Find them doing something right and celebrate it. Recognize the effective efforts of others publicly.

3.      Empower others to demonstrate initiative and make decisions within the boundaries of their training, experience, and track record.

4.      When people make mistakes use those times as training opportunities.

5.      Take the time to engage with your employees.   Pope Francis has a great quote; “the shepherd should smell like the sheep”. This is another way to say, “Be a muddy boots leader”. Spend time understanding the personal goals, the achievements, and the challenges of the people you lead.

6.      Take the time to engage all team members. It is natural to spend more time with people we lead whom we have the most in common with or have the most affinity for. This is natural but ensure you do not create an impression where you are leaving others out.

7.      Provide clear guidance, do not micromanage, but be available to provide additional guidance and support when necessary.

8.      Stay calm. Be aware of your emotions and control them.

9.      Communicate well. Maintain eye contact with those you engage and actively listen to those you lead.

10.   Do all you can to create a workspace where people feel safe. Leaders set conditions where those they lead do not feel threatened, bullied, and taken advantage of in the workplace. 

Organizations that have a culture of connection, belonging, and psychological safety will be more successful because people will focus on doing their job well and taking care of customers rather than watching their backs.

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