Making a Connection: Easier Than You Think

In a recent post, I wrote, “The ‘special sauce’ that makes leadership work is a sense of connection.” Here, I’d like to explore that further by reflecting on why it’s so essential for all leaders (not just introverts) to establish a sense of connection.

In their excellent book Leadership Presence, authors Halpern and Lubar write: “Leadership presence (is) the ability to connect authentically with the thoughts and feelings of others, in order to motivate and inspire them toward a desired outcome.”

If the aim of leadership is to engage people to work willingly (and perhaps even enthusiastically!) toward a particular purpose or outcome, then connection—what they call Presence—is absolutely essential.

That’s the logic.  And I can personally attest to that. I accepted my first significant leadership challenge—founding a residential agency for people with severe disabilities at the age of 24—because someone I respected looked me in the eye and said, “I know how important it is to you that people with disabilities live in the community and not in institutions. This situation could use your energy and commitment.” I had no idea how to meet that challenge when I accepted it, but I took it on because I felt that person understood what was important to me and what I was capable of contributing. He connected with my passion, my capabilities and my potential.

Although that interaction significantly shaped my life, making a connection doesn’t need to be a momentous thing. Recently, my friend Jane stated, “Connection takes less than you think: it takes a moment of eye contact and warmth for people to feel valued.” That’s it? Just a moment? I was actually shocked. And yet Jane is a master at making people valued. So I have to believe it can be as simple as that.

I decided to make a conscious effort to connect with people during a workshop I facilitated last weekend. As I walked through the lobby of the hotel, the first person I encountered was the front desk clerk.  Instead of a distracted, “Where’s the Family Leadership Series?” I smiled, made eye contact and then asked my question. A small connection that I might have passed over a few days earlier. Throughout the day, I applied the same intention and found that not only did I have a really great day but I wasn’t as tired as usual after facilitating a day-long workshop. Instead of depleting, connection was energizing!

Yet how many opportunities slip by because we are distracted or preoccupied?  Too focused on a deadline or on accomplishing a task to take just a moment? Whatever the reason, the effect is to pull inward, focus on your situation and fail to recognize the impact you have on the other.

I invite you to make a conscious commitment to connect with everyone you encounter tomorrow. It's certainly something I'm going to continue exploring. I can’t guarantee what will happen but I’m sure we'll learn something important.