The Connected Leader

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
― Herman Melville

To connect is a basic human need. Unfortunately, far too many of our leaders are trained and have been influenced by mentors to not show emotions and vulnerability, or to conduct real conversations. I recently witnessed a gut-wrenching example. A leader broke into tears while she was being coached. Tears in coaching are like pearls. They signify a moment of vulnerability which will open the client to reach higher levels of awareness and insights. However, she felt embarrassed and ashamed. Upon further discussion, it became evident that her corporate culture and leadership did not approve of tears, in particular for women. It seems that in her organization, tears are equated to weakness, indecision, lack of balance, and not carrying an “executive presence”. However, anger and direct/blunt conversations that damage peoples’ dignity and sense of self worth are acceptable, in particular if exhibited by male leaders. In some cases, this behavior is seen as a hallmark of confidence and leadership, as in “Bill does not mince words”, or “The thing I like about Joe is that you always know where you stand with him” and “Richard is a no nonsense type of guy. You always know where you stand with him”.

In their quest to hide their real feelings and emotions, many leaders have become automatons who are wound up and put on display to mimic and voice pre-scripted, unemotional, and unauthentic messages. When I ask them what percentage of their time they spend really getting to know their people, to better understand their hopes, fears, and aspirations, and to share their own values, on average they cite a range of 5 to 10%. Given the fact that employees spend a minimum of 75% of their waking hours at work, this is a worrisome statistic indeed. By not being connected, leaders lose the opportunity to make a true contribution to their organization and the lives of the people they lead.

Elite segments of the U.S. military spend significant time with their comrades getting to know them and to build understanding and a feel for one another. Beyond forming long-lasting relationships, these relationships are designed to ensure that the soldiers have an intuitive feel for one another’s movements and reactions to keep them safe. The military understands that under the intense stress of incoming enemy fire, it is critical for soldiers to anticipate the reactions of one another and to feel good about taking risks with their own safety in the service of their comrades in arms.

The same principles apply to organizations. There are intense pressures to deliver innovative products, manage cost, and win the hearts and minds of customers. Therefore, it is critical that leaders create deep connections with their followers and to be able to “read their mind”.

 

Questions For On Line Conversation:

  1. Have you been led by connected leaders?
  2. What were they like?
  3. What was their effect on others?
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